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N.Y. Schools Chief John King Tapped as Senior Adviser to Ed. Dept.

By Alyson Klein — December 10, 2014 3 min read
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New York’s Education Commissioner, John B. King, has been tapped as a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Education. He’ll essentially be performing the job of the deputy secretary, replacing Jim Shelton, who is leaving the agency this month. In that role, the No. 2 job at the agency, King will be in charge of operations, managing a diverse array of programs.

The news was first reported Wednesday by The New York Times.

King has served as the Empire State’s top education official since 2011. His agenda there has generally been aligned with many of the Obama administration’s K-12 priorities, particularly when it comes to teacher evaluation and the Common Core State Standards. And, like his new boss, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, King has weathered plenty of opposition to both policies, especially from teachers’ unions.

In fact, the New York State United Teachers, a National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliate, called for his ouster earlier this year. The union’s key complaint? The rollout of common core. (The national NEA has also called for Duncan’s resignation.)

King, however, has gotten high marks from some folks for the state’s website “Engage New York,” which is aimed at helping schools implement the standards.

Although the federal Education Department considers New York’s implementation of its teacher-evaluation system to be “on track,” the state passed legislation earlier this year that put a “safety net” in place for teachers who are given low ratings, after major pushback from teachers’ unions. The bill states that teachers and principals wouldn’t be at risk of losing their jobs if they received poor evaluations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. (Gov. Cuomo still must sign the legislation.).

Before taking the helm of the New York state schools, King served as a senior deputy commissioner at the New York State Education Department. In that role, he was a lead architect of the state’s successful Race to the Top application, which netted New York nearly $700 million. And prior to that, he served as a managing director with Uncommon Schools, a non-profit charter-management organization. (Emma Vadehra, Duncan’s chief of staff, also worked for Uncommon Schools, although the two don’t appear to have overlapped.)

King, a former social studies teacher, served as New York’s first African-American and first Puerto Rican commissioner of education, according to this thorough New York Times profile.

So what’s the early reaction?

The Education Trust, an advocacy organization that looks out for poor and minority children, immediately hailed the move.

“John King is a brilliant educator, with unparalleled insight into what good teaching and good schools look like,” said Kati Haycock, the president of The Education Trust in a statement. “As commissioner of education in New York, he worked incredibly hard to improve teaching and learning across the state. His compass was always guided by what was right for kids, particularly the low-income children and children of color whose very futures depended on high-quality education.”

And Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, is also pleased. He called King a “strong, thoughful educational leader” in a statement.

King isn’t the first state chief—or New York state education official—to join the Education Department during the Obama administration. Deb Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education is the former chief in Ohio. And Amy McIntosh, who worked with King at the state agency, is now the department’s principal assistant deputy secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy.

Lauren Camera, Steve Sawchuk, and Andrew Ujfusa contributed to this report.