John King, the former Obama-appointed US Secretary of Education and the highly controversial Commissioner of Education in New York State announced he is running for governor of Maryland; the current governor, a republican, Larry Hogan, is term-limited. King will be facing a number of others in the democratic primary..
As some of you are aware, pre-COVID, I traveled to Albany each month and attended the Board of Regents meetings, I tweeted, blogged, wrote memos, sort of a journalist/citizen lobbyist, and I observed and occasionally talked with the commissioner; he is both brilliant and totally dedicated to recasting education, however; you cannot impose change.
The New York State Board of Regent is a seventeen-member policy board elected by a joint meeting of the legislatures, effectively selected by the speaker, the democratic leader of the Assembly; the Board selects the head of the State Department of Education, the Commissioner. For decades the Board was made up primarily of non-educators, usually business leaders with roots in their communities; however, in 2009 the Regents elevated Merryl Tisch, a member of the Board for a decade and a former teacher as the Chancellor
For years critics claimed the State was fudging scores on the standardized tests, the scored edged upward every year. The Board, in a sharp departure from the past, selected David Steiner, a scholar with an international reputation as commissioner and Steiner selected John King as deputy. King had a glowing academic resume, degrees from Harvard, Yale and Columbia, his school experience was in charter schools.
The new team, Tisch/Steiner, asked David Koretz, a testing expert from Harvard to review the New York State test results, and, lo and behold, by offering similar tests each year it was not surprising that scores edged upwards.
Steiner led the application process for the Race to the Top grant and worked closely with the teacher unions, he called it “bagel diplomacy,” breakfast meetings with union leadership; then, precipitously Steiner left to return to academia and the Board selected John King as commissioner.
John was anxious to remake education in New York State, to set a model for the nation working with Obama/Duncan initiatives, fully implementing the Common Core State Standards, adopting PARCC and Smarter Balance Testing, Value-Added Measurement (VAM) to assess and grade teachers, upgrade the pre-service testing for prospective teachers; the commissioner should have read, Cuban and Tyack,”Tinkering Towards Utopia: A Century of School Reform,” the authors,
argue that the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.
Cuban/Tyack concludes without teacher and parent buy-in school reform efforts are doomed.
John was a man on a mission, Chancellor Tisch and most board members supported him, only former New York City superintendents challenged him, his policies were approved.
One of his first steps was disastrous.
John fully adopted the Common Core State Standards and insisted, in spite of pleas to phase in the new standards, that the state standardized tests be based on the new standards.
The test resulted swung from 2/3 proficient or above proficient one year to 2/3 below proficient the following year.
Parents across the state were outraged, their kids’ future in doubt. John decided on a New York State Parent Association sponsored listening tour, moving from city to city to explain and pacify parents, his first stop was Poughkeepsie.
Unfortunately the event is no longer on u-tube: twenty or thirty minutes into his explanatory remarks the heckling began, and increased, John was unable to continue. He later complaining of “outside agitators;” the remainder of the tour was cancelled. Read a description of the event here and my blog here and a letter from a parent at the meeting here.
Was the reaction of the audience and example of implied bias or outright racism? The arrogance of the Commissioner? Were we watching the anger simmering below the surface that Trump unleashed? Probably
The former-commissioner did not change the face of education in New York State; he did create the opt-out movement in the state and the anti-testing movement nationally.
The 3-page letter from US Department of Education deputy Ian Rosenblum, who worked under King at Education Trust, was another example of heavy handedness, the letter is ambiguous and the waivers that the US Department of Education is approving and denying make no sense.
At the heart of Baltimore.
Baltimore is one of the most crime-ridden, violent cities in the nation; the current governor has not had any success in reducing the crime rate.
King will have enormous challenges, and, he needs support from teachers and parents and the citizens of Maryland. Can he move from a top-down state education leaders to a collaborative governor?
My advice to John is watch all five seasons of The Wire, especially season 4 , “Schools,” and decide whether this is the career path he wants to take.