Well, it's finally happening-- Acting Pretend Secretary of Education John King is going to have his very own nominations hearing starting on Thursday, and I'm okay with that.
Carol Burris, former all-star New York principal and currently Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, has written a clear and thorough explanation of just how badly King performed as New York State's education chief. John King has a compelling personal story, though I wonder what he's learned from it. But Burris points out three major issues with his management style.
King is inflexible and deals with those who disagree by questioning their motives. His total and blind commitment to Common Core and other reformy programs created many major messes in NY. And King's devotion led him to stay the course, no matter what actual data came in. Under King, Common Core implementation was a disaster, teacher evaluation was a disaster, testing was a disaster, massive data gathering was a disaster, and having public meetings to manage public reaction to the other disasters was a disaster.
Nevertheless, I am happy that King is getting a hearing, and I hope he gets the job.
First, we need to recognize that the administration is going to pick somebody in the Duncanesque reformster mode. People who believed that Duncan was somehow responsible for all the evils of ed reform under Obama were always kidding themselves, imagining that somehow Duncan was driving the school bus and Obama was not paying attention. We've had seven years of exactly the education policy that President Obama wanted us to have.
Put another way-- while people may object to King's support for the Common Core, standardized testing, the use of test scores for teacher evaluations, and charter school love, the unfortunate truth is that anybody put forward by this administration will share those affections. The policy support menu that people hate about King is also the policy support menu that is a basic requirement for being Barack Obama's ed secretary. If King is rejected, the President is not going to get on the phone to Diane Ravitch. Heck-- Jeb Bush is now available, and there's nothing that Jeb believes about education that would conflict with current administration policies.
So we're going to have someone who perpetuates reformsters policies, and if we must, I say that John King is a fine choice.
Why? Well, let's look at some of his accomplishments in New York State.
King helped galvanize such outrage and activism about data mining that a $100 million project supported by Bill Gates was scrapped.
King powered up the largest test revolt in the country, creating an opt-out movement that is now a potent political force in the Empire State.
As often as he said dumb things, Arne Duncan also was able to say the right thing. Let's be honest-- there was a time when we all listened to what he and his boss had to say and thought, "Yeah, that's right. That sounds good. I think maybe we're going to be okay." King (or some USED intern) is already showing an ability to make semi-conciliatory noises, but two things work against him-- we know who he is and what he's supported and until he tells us a story about his trip on the road to education Damascus, there's no reason to believe anything has changed; and second, he has a proven track record of being a terrible communicator. Say what you like about Duncan (I know I have), but he would never have screwed up the New York "Splaining Tour to the point of cancelling it because he couldn't handle it.
In the ongoing argument about public education, we pro-public ed folks have had a problem convincing civilians that there's a problem. We shout and point and holler, "There's a monster over there!" and they look and they see a reasonably pleasant mild-mannered guy who explains that he's just looking out For The Children. We try to sound the alarm and end up looking like William Shatner gawking out the airplane window.
But in New York, John King did what dozens of pro-public ed activists failed to do-- he got thousands upon thousands of parents and taxpayers to see just how crappy the reformster plan for education was. His tone deafness, his inflexibility, his utter dismissal of other viewpoints, his unwavering focus on barreling right past red flags-- all of that had the effect of displaying the reformster agenda in all its ugly unvarnished glory. John King was the emperor who paraded his nakedness without restraint or artifice, and many New Yorkers looked and said, "Damn! Yuck! I finally get it! This is bad stuff."
So keep sending those letters and letting Congress know he's bad news. That's fine. Maybe somebody at the hearing will actually even ask questions about the train-wreck of federal education policy, even if they do think they've rendered his office mootly neutered with the ESSA (Education Secretary Spanking Act). They're wrong, but that's another conversation. Let's go ahead and have this conversation first.
But me? I'm just hoping that King can do for the nation what he did for New York. Spread opt out across the country. Galvanize parents. Tout reformster ideas with so little sense or restraint that even the most casual observers will start to think, "Hey, those seem like really bad policies."