58° Good Afternoon
58° Good Afternoon
Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

John King leaves schools post amid clashing agendas in education

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King,

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, seen in a 2013 photo, is resigning to take a post in the Obama administration. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Compared to today's classroom, the political backroom seems simple.

Consider the forces now in play on the school scene:

Federal officials keep prodding states into uniform standards through the Common Core curriculum.

Well-funded organizations seek to expand a brand of privatization known as charter schools.

Teachers unions are digging in to defend their domains.

Parents, students and administrators struggle to adjust to changes mandated from afar.

An educational-industrial complex nurtures private testing companies -- much as the military-industrial complex once grew defense contractors.

Given these clashing agendas, it becomes difficult to see how life in New York would change with this week's announcement that state Education Commissioner John King, 39, will leave to become U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's top aide.

The news about King came less than six weeks after an election in which enough citizens voted for gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino on the Stop Common Core line to gain the ad-hoc party automatic ballot status for four years.

So when Chancellor Merryl Tisch and other key members of the Board of Regents conduct a formal search for King's successor, they may wish to advertise: "Experience as political lightning rod required."

After a troubled Common Core implementation, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cited the legal formalities of the system to distance himself -- amid a public outcry on the order of a tax revolt.

Last February, Cuomo said in a radio interview: "You would think the governor is in charge of the state Education Department. Actually, I'm not. I have nothing to do with it. The Board of Regents supervises the state Education Department and I don't appoint anyone to the Board of Regents, either."

By April, the New York State United Teachers demanded King's resignation, against a backdrop of battle over teacher evaluations linked to the curriculum and its testing component.

By October, Cuomo's campaign ad stated that he wished "not to use Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready."

All along insiders knew that Tisch and Cuomo, along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), were key powers behind the Regents as King did his thing.

This week, while Tisch and others hailed King's service, NYSUT said in a statement: "We hope he has learned from his stormy tenure . . . and look forward to working collaboratively and productively with the Regents to improve public education going forward."

Top officials can put their individual stamps on the institutions they head. King, for his part, caught criticism as rigid and unresponsive from some Albany stakeholders who dealt with him. By Tisch's account, he was "a remarkable leader in a time of true reform."

King's successor -- whoever it proves to be -- may enter the fray in a spotlight of reduced intensity. The charged atmosphere of statewide elections does not return until 2018, and the next few months will show whether sentiment against high-stakes testing persists or fades in the schools and the political arena.

Latest Long Island News