(TNS) -- The former New York education commissioner whose tenure was a flashpoint in the state's education wars is about to lead the nation through its own rocky education reforms.
John B. King Jr. was named the replacement for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who choked up on national television Friday announcing his resignation. Duncan, one of the longest-serving members of President Barack Obama's Cabinet, is leaving in December after seven years in the job to spend more time with his family back in Chicago.
Avoiding a confirmation fight with Congress, Obama tapped King to serve as acting secretary until the end of his presidency. At a news conference Friday, after describing Duncan's record as one that no other education secretary can match, Obama called King an "exceptionally talented leader" and the "right man" to lead the federal department.
King took a senior position in the department in January after a tumultuous four-and-a-half-year tenure leading the New York State Education Department.
"He shares our commitment to preparing every child for success in a more innovative and competitive world," Obama said of King.
Not all New Yorkers would agree. It was during King's time as state education commissioner that New York rolled out the curriculum, tests and teacher evaluations that have drawn so much ire among parents and teachers. The use of test scores and convoluted growth formulas to evaluate teachers has been widely panned, and contributed to nearly one of every five parents opting their students out of state tests in the spring.
New York State United Teachers gave King a vote of "no confidence" last spring and joined parents' groups in calling for his resignation several months later. The teachers' union said Friday it was "deeply disappointed" to hear of his appointment, and urged its 600,000 members across the state to call the White House to express their own displeasure.
"We consider John King an ideologue and one who we disagreed with sharply during his time as commissioner in New York state," said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. "He held fast to an ideology of testing, testing and more testing when students, parents and educators were calling for more teaching and learning. We hope that he has learned from the many missteps he made in New York state and in the future acts in the best interests of the students, parents and educators who are so deeply vested in their success."
The Alliance for Quality Education echoed the union's sentiments, calling King a "troubling choice" for the nation's education chief.
"He was not open to parent input on issues from improving struggling schools to the use of standardized testing," said AQE Executive Director Billy Easton. "He probably has done more to inspire opt outs than any person in the country except Andrew Cuomo."
King's appointment earned high praise from some New York officials, including State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, High Achievement New York Executive Director Stephen Sigmund and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. In a statement, Tisch said she has been amazed by "his intellect, commitment and conviction" since their time together at Teacher's College.
"John King was an extraordinary leader and an incredible partner in his four and a half years as New York's commissioner," she said. "With vision and courage he led the transition to higher standards, a stronger curriculum and critical reforms in teacher preparation. His life story is a testament to the potential for our public schools to literally save lives."
King was born and raised in Brooklyn. He spent much of his upbringing moving between homes and schools after his parents died. School was his refuge, he has said, and public school teachers "literally saved" his life. After graduating from Harvard, he went on to become a teacher and co-founded a charter school in Boston. In 2011, he was named New York's education commissioner and pushed the state to roll out one of the nation's most rigorous Common Core programs.
Both he and Duncan alluded to King's upbringing during the Friday news conference at the White House. If you judged by stereotypes alone, Duncan said, King was "one of those kids who probably shouldn't be in a room like this."
King said he was honored by the chance to serve and deeply humbled to follow in Duncan's footsteps.
"Every child in the U.S., every college student, every disconnected youth, every working parent who just wants a few more credits that might be able to improve their position at a job, everyone deserves the kind of opportunity I had to get a great education," he said.
(c)2015 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)