State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a press...

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a press conference in Albany on Feb. 10, 2014. Credit: Philip Kamrass

John B. King Jr.'s tenure as head of the state Education Department wasn't perfect, but he was an impassioned and effective advocate for higher standards and better education, and he will be missed.

King announced Wednesday that he will leave at the end of the month to become federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan's No. 2. In an interesting side note on Washington politics, he will be called a senior adviser rather than deputy secretary because it's so difficult in this partisan Congress for appointees to get confirmed.

King, 39, was in charge of implementing Common Core standards and a new teacher evaluation system in New York. That put him in the crosshairs of angry educators who opposed tying their evaluations to student performance on standardized tests, and really, to any quantifiable measures. Parents were upset, too, worried that the tougher standards and lower test scores were defining their kids as failures. These moms and dads, further riled up by educators looking to stop change, argued that the new teaching techniques made no sense.

A rollout in which King overpromised help with lesson plans and underdelivered made matters worse. The materials, many educators now say, are quite good, but work on them should have begun earlier. His cancellation of community meetings at the height of the controversy compounded the error. The backlash culminated in Stop Common Core, a new ballot line in November's election, but now much of the furor over Common Core seems to have faded. Teachers, students and parents appear to have reached a comfort level with the new methods and standards.

On a local level, King's swift move to force a new school board election in Hempstead in October in response to an obviously tainted process gave voters back their voice, and gave the district a chance at progress. Statewide, King, himself a former principal of a very successful charter school, was a reliable supporter of these innovative, needed schools.

Under fire, King maintained composure and focus to good effect. We hope his replacement continues the progress, and shows as much resolve in fighting for change, standards and students. And we hope King can continue his success on a national level.

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