As 2016 begins, I resolve to work hard for students, teachers, and anyone seeking a better life through education pic.twitter.com/8h8XqfkWXT— John King (@JohnKingatED) January 1, 2016
Now, it's not that anybody is watching King carefully to see which way he's going to jump-- his tenure as education chief in New York State already tells us what to expect. He has an inspiring back story, from which he himself appears to have missed the most important lessons. He has a healthy ego, but he is not so keen on dealing with the public. The first words of his twitter profile are "Taught HS social studies" but not "for only a couple of years in a charter school." King is a fine example of a test-and-punish, privatizing reformster policy leader.
His three resolutions are... well, interesting.
Working to ensure that every student in America-- regardless of zip code or background-- has the opportunities a high-quality education provides.
First, let's note what this doesn't say. It doesn't say "Making sure that every community is served by a great school in their own zip code."
Second, "working to ensure" is politician to "try real hard" which may be more realistic than saying, "we are going to do this" but is also less aspirational. Given the lofty aspirations that USED likes to set for teachers and students, it seems like a lowball.
Finally-- the opportunities a high-quality education provides. That's a lot to unlock. When a wealthy, well-connected scion of a wealthy, well-connected family lands a great job opportunity, was that opportunity provided by education, or something else? This is a statement that invokes "zip code and background," the new euphemism for "non-wealthy and non-white" that pretends that socio-economic issues descend like weather systems upon randomly selected neighborhoods-- it invokes all that, and then goes out of its way to ignore the role of poverty, race and class on opportunity in this country. We really need to have an honest conversation about what opportunities a high-quality education opens up. Mind you, I have a high opinion of the value of a high-quality education, and if I had my way, every student in America would get one. But to continue with this fiction that just fixing up some schools will create economic mobility and shrink the yawning chasm of economic inequality in this country is the silliest kind of fiction.
Supporting our nation's educators and elevating the teaching profession.
A good way to elevate the teaching profession would be to treat teachers like they are important education experts worth listening to. Imagine a world where, before something like ESSA could pass, every legislator says, "Hold on-- I can't vote on this until I have some teachers from my home district look at it and tell me what they think." Imagine a Department of Education that actually incorporates and listens to working teachers-- and not just hand-picked ones who have established that they will not say anything that makes the department bureaucrats sad. In fact-- and I know I'm talking crazy talk here-- imagine a world where a career as a working public school teacher was considered a necessity to serve as Secretary of Education.
Of course, we'll just have to imagine. Because in this world, "elevate the profession" means "make up more rules and regulations to force the profession to look more the way we wise bureaucrats think it should look." Thanks a lot, guys.
Improving access, affordability, and completion in higher education for all.
We have got to talk about this fetishization of college education. I like college. I support college. Went there, sent both my kids there. But the world also needs all sorts of people who don't need college degrees (you can still put on a blindfold, throw a dart at a map, and hit some place where you can go find a well-paying job as a welder). Public education has always suffered from a pro-college bias that does not always serve the needs of students or community, but we are veering closer and closer to a world where education policy says, "Look, kid, I don't care what you want to be when you grow up. The US wants a higher college attendance-completion rate so we can look good when we're hanging out with Estonia, so write a check, take out some loans, and get in there. Major in something."
This talk of affordability is particularly nervy, because the feds in general and the USED in particular have done exactly jack squat to make college affordable (including giving up the huge profits that the feds pocket from college loans).
But this is one of the hallmarks of reformsterism-- we can make education better by forcing more students to become customers of this testing service, or this charter school, or this college.
I could devote a mile of scrolling screenery to all the things that Acting Pretend Secretary King doesn't address, like empowering communities to create and steer their schools, or pushing states to fully fund all schools, or demanding that each school provide a full range of services, or declaring that the Big Standardized Tests are a waste of everyone's time, so the USED will be spending $0.00 on enforcing compliance with ESSA's testing demands.
He could make a call for more social and economic justice. He could demand that every zip code be a place where students can be free from danger and hunger so that they can focus on education. He could resolve to actually listen to parents and teachers and students. He could resolve to open his mind to a fuller idea of what a high-quality education is beyond "one that results in high test scores in math and reading."
But he didn't. First day on the job, and Acting Pretend Secretary King is already living up to our low expectations of him. Just once I would like a politician to surprise me in a good way. But that is not how we're going to start the year at USED.