Friday, January 8, 2016

From Duncan to King

Most regular readers of the blog know that for the most part I have not been a fan of the policies of (recently) former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, even if I think his intentions were good. Too much emphasis on testing, too much arbitrariness, too punitive, too much over-reach, too little thought given to the impacts of privatization, and too little respect for democratic processes.

But he has used his bully pulpit to speak up about some issues that matter, and it is my hope that he will be one of those officials who turns out to do better things out of office than s/he did while in office. The content of his final speech in office, as reported in the Washington Post, leads me to believe he will do some work towards reducing gun violence. I hope so.
Arne Duncan used his last speech as U.S. Education Secretary to draw attention to violence that claims the lives of thousands of children each year, saying that the “greatest frustration” of his seven-year tenure has been Washington’s failure to pass gun control legislation. 
Fighting off tears, Duncan said that 16,000 young people were killed during his first six years in office. “We have to get guns out of the wrong people’s hands. We have to make sure our babies are safe,” said Duncan, who plans to step down on Thursday. 
He went on to draw connections between street violence and high school dropout rates in America’s poorest communities, saying that both are the result of hopelessness that children feel when they grow up believing that they have a better chance of dying young than going to college or getting a job.
Meanwhile, the record of his successor, Acting Education Secretary John King, while serving as New York State's Education Commissioner gives me. . . pause:
King was just as embattled, if not more, in New York as education commissioner for some of the same reasons as Duncan — and there were numerous calls for his resignation as well. By the time he resigned, he had lost the confidence of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) (although King was appointed by the New York State Regents). 
King led a series of school reforms that included a new teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores that critics say is nonsensical  (for example, art teachers are evaluated by student math test scores) and the implementation of the Common Core standards, and aligned Pearson-designed standardized tests. King’s oversight of all of this was considered such a disaster that Cuomo last year wrote in a letter to top state education officials that “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start.”
But just as some public officials do very different things once out of office, they sometimes take a different tack once they change positions, and show evidence of, you know, growth. In addition, King has spoken about the importance of school integration as an education reform lever, which is hopeful:
At a recent National Coalition on School Diversity conference, King emphasized the importance of integrated, racially diverse schools, according to Chalkbeat New York.  
“Schools that are integrated better reflect our values as a country,” King said.  
Under Duncan, the Education Department did not take action to desegregate the nation's increasingly racially segregated schools. But King told Chalkbeat that integration “has a long history and substantial evidence” of success.
Even so, I am not a resident of New York State and do not begrudge the skepticism among those who are King detractors.

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