Commissioner King's tone-deaf legacy
Ohanian Comment: How fitting that Arne Duncan would choose someone as inflexible as John King to join him in Washington. Good for this editorial for pointing out that the New York Regents--led by Commissioner Tisch-- are responsible for the education agenda.
New York State Education Commissioner John King is moving on, joining Fed Ed. The young leader's legacy has been one of rapid change and tone-deaf response. King should have been reminded to act like a teacher -- to listen, engage, rethink, explain, demonstrate and teach. Food for thought as the Board of Regents seeks a new education chief.
For many in the Lower Hudson Valley, a lasting image of outgoing Education Commissioner John King will be of him sitting impassively at Port Chester Middle School in late 2013. The school auditorium was packed with hundreds of parents, teachers and others. Speaker after speaker stood up to decry the rapid rollout of the Common Core standards and new state tests. King appeared to listen, but said little and gave no ground. Most importantly, he didn't show a pinch of interest in connecting with parents, acknowledging their concerns or even making them feel as if they had been heard.
Let's hope he has learned some lessons from his New York experience, as he heads to Washington, D.C., to become senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He'll transition to that post at the end of the year.
The Port Chester forum came shortly after King had canceled another series of statewide forums, claiming they had been co-opted by "special interests." To John King, anyone who questions or criticizes the state's top-down education "reform" agenda is an outsider who is not committed to seeing kids learn. Parents and educators who find flaws in sweeping curriculum and teacher evaluation changes are portrayed as lazy, excuse-making haters.
This isn't the case, of course. Many parents and educators in this region have offered reasonable, passionate and often convincing arguments against the growing state focus on testing, data-crunching, and evaluating teachers with a formula that is easily picked apart. But King has not been willing to engage his critics. This position has enraged many and created a bizarre stare-down between the state Education Department and many school districts that are supposed to be part of the same team.
King's manner is as gentle as the state's agenda has been heavy-handed. He speaks softly, repeats the same messages over and over, and doesn't let himself appear to be ruffled by outside forces. He forges ahead with an air of certainty about his mission to force schools to get better against their will. This attitude should serve him well in Washington, where Education Secretary Duncan is also impervious to critics of reform (like those "white suburban moms" he went after last year).
Don't forget: King did not set New York's educational path. He was hired by the Board of Regents to implement their reform agenda. Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who leads and very much runs the board, praised King for doing his job well. "John has transformed teaching and learning," she said. The board must have forgotten to tell King to act like a teacher -- to listen, engage, rethink, explain, demonstrate and teach.
The Regents will quickly begin searching for a new education chief. They should look for someone who has taught and served as an administrator in public schools. King attended public schools but worked for charter schools before moving to Albany. This is not to say that the next commissioner should be afraid to shake things up and or to take on big issues like reforming tenure. But she or he should be comfortable talking to public school folks ΓΆ€“ parents and educators who have different perspectives about how to improve public education. Despite what today's generation of reformers might think, there is no single right answer.
How would you grade John King? Share your thoughts on the education commissioner's tenure.
The Journal News