It was announced yesterday that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would be stepping down, effective in December, to be replaced by former New York State Education Commissioner John King (who will be acting as an interim). A caption on an AP video of the announcement reads “President Barack Obama is reluctantly accepting the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan…” but it’s clear this was long in the works. King was given a made-up position in DOE almost a year ago (“Senior Adviser Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education”) and Duncan’s family moved back home to Chicago early this past summer – clearly so that they wouldn’t have to change schools mid-year (it’s nice to know that Duncan is trying to do the right thing for at least two of the seventy-nine million students in the US).
Although many are up in arms over this, this may actually turn out to be a positive development.
While opt-out started through a grass-roots movement promoted by parent advocates like Jeanette Duetermann, there is one person more than any other who is responsible for its exponential growth: John King. By pushing an ill-conceived and incomplete set of mandates on public schools, and then responding to legitimate criticism by belittling and attempting to marginalize parents (e.g. calling parents a “special interest group”), he pushed parents to become actively engaged in pushing back. He is the primary reason that New York State is at the forefront of the movement and will now provide the catalyst that advocates need to help it grow nationally. At a certain point, NCLB, RTTT, and whatever else congress pushes, will become irrelevant as the testing machine implodes.
The same holds true for Common Core. The standard mantra among CC supporters is that there’s nothing wrong with the standards; if only they’d been rolled out correctly everyone would be on board with them. But as we all know, John King was the main person responsible for the timing, pacing, and content of the Common Core introduction in New York. So if you buy into the flawed roll-out argument, then King is the worst possible person to lead the charge as he is almost single-handedly responsible for causing the general public to hate these otherwise perfect standards. Just as with opt-out, King’s appointment will be a catalyst for the anti-Common Core crowd.
So one has to ask, why would Obama hand the Ed Dept. over to King? Maybe it’s part of a larger plan.
At some point during his administration, President Obama must have realized that his education policies were doing far more harm than good. Looking at the mounting piles of empirical and anecdotal evidence being put forth by education experts, statisticians, parents, and teachers, it had to have become clear that the test and punish mindset being pushed by reformers, and embodied in Race to the Top, was not only failing to improve our education system, but was going to drive it to ruin.
But what could he do?
Politicians, as a rule, are loathe to acknowledge that they were completely wrong on major issues. In addition, with the way that testing and Common Core issues are completely intertwined, he could not expect backing from any corner if he publicly tried to change course. Democrats have supported Common Core, and many have bought into the lie that annual testing is necessary to protect at-risk students. And while Republicans have been pushing for pulling back federal mandates (or even abolishing the Department of Education), it’s unlikely they would support drastic changes that would make Obama come out looking good.
This leaves only one option: Keep up the act, but let the ruinous policies destroy themselves.
So clearly, this is a work of true genius. A subtle, jiu-jitsu like move designed to solve the problem while diverting attention away from what’s really going on. Can he be that smart?
Okay, maybe this sounds crazy. But think about it – is it really any crazier than the alternative? That Obama would choose someone who was an absolute failure in his last high profile appointment to fill in as Secretary of Education? Someone who will be a lightening rod for criticism and has shown he is particularly inept at handling dissent? Can Obama really be that dumb?
And given that King received a vote of no-confidence from NYSUT, his appointment is a big “F— YOU” to teachers unions, but what does Obama have to gain by alienating teachers even further? Is this just Cuomo-like pettiness for the AFT endorsement of Hillary in 2008?
What is really going on here? Like most every issue where politics and education collide, what we’re being presented with makes absolutely no sense. We’ll see how it plays out.
In the meantime, NYSUT has asked members to call the White House.
“NYSUT has always considered John King an ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues during his tenure as the state’s Education Department commissioner. Just last year, our members delivered a vote of no confidence against him and called for his resignation. NYSUT urges its members to call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 — as well as a special White House telephone line dedicated to public comments at 202-456-1111 — to express their displeasure in John King’s appointment.”