President Barack Obama nominated John King to be Secretary of Education Thursday, acquiescing to critics who had attacked him for trying to have King run the Department of Education without Senate approval.
“Since joining the Department of Education, John has worked to build on the progress our country has made in expanding opportunity for all of our children,” said Obama in a statement. “There is nobody better to continue leading our ongoing efforts to work toward preschool for all, prepare our kids so that they are ready for college and career, and make college more affordable.”
Arne Duncan, who had served since the beginning of Obama’s tenure, announced his departure in October and stepped down at the year’s end, but at first the Obama administration said that no replacement would be forthcoming. Instead, they planned to elevate King from his post as acting deputy secretary and allow him to run the department for over a year without bothering with Congressional vetting.
But Obama faced some criticism for the move, not the least because existing federal law says an acting Cabinet official should not hold office for longer than 210 days (though there are ways to evade that limit).
Lamar Alexander, the Republican chair of the Senate’s education committee, praised Obama for the move.
“John King will receive a prompt and fair hearing in our committee,” Alexander said in a statement. “For proper accountability, especially as we work with the administration on implementing the new law governing elementary and secondary education, it is important to have in charge of the department a member of the president’s cabinet confirmed by the United States Senate.”
Prior to working at the Department of Education, King worked as New York’s education commissioner, a role that has the potential to produce opposition to his nomination. While serving as commissioner, King was in charge of implementing Common Core in the state by training teachers in the standards and adopting new Common Core-aligned standardized tests.
But that implementation has gone badly thus far, with New York’s challenging new standardized tests inspiring massive parental boycotts and a backlash from educators. Last fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a commission to “totally reboot” New York’s approach.
As Secretary of Education, though, King would have no involvement with Common Core, as Congress recently passed new legislation that prohibits the federal government from attempting to influence state-level school standards in any way.
King’s early life likely won’t factor into his nomination, but it is certainly colorful. King’s mother died when he was eight and his father when he was 12, leaving him to be raised by a half-brother. He attended Phillips Andover prep school in Massachusetts, but was expelled for misbehavior. Despite this, he later turned his life around and earned an assortment of degrees from Harvard University, Yale Law School, and the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. After spending a few years teaching, he helped found a charter school in Boston.
Unlike Duncan, who educated his own children at a private school in Washington, D.C., King’s own children currently attend public schools in Maryland’s Montgomery County.
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