Koonlaba: More of the Same: King to replace Duncan and what it means

We have officially been dropped down the rabbit hole. Arne Duncan announced that he will be stepping down as the United States Secretary of Education, and Obama named John King, former New York State Chancellor, as his interim replacement.

We might be tempted to celebrate the resignation of Arne Duncan, which many predicted when he moved his children to a progressive private school in Chicago, a school that does not follow key school reform policies that his Education Department set for public schools. After all, we did put up with seven years of buffoonery and inanity from his administration. He was the face of corporate reform, but as Steven Singer puts it,

Meet the New Boss.

Same as the Old Boss.

The Network for Public Education assigned an “F” to the selection of John King as a replacement to Arne Duncan.

The Badass Teachers Association reports that

John King’s tenure in New York was one of controversy and with an established agenda of dismantling public education by using corporate education reform tactics. King was run out of New York in 2014 because of a staggering test opt out rate, because he ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, and because he refused to fix an education system that he himself destroyed. The state teachers union, NYSUT, had a unanimous vote of no confidence in him prior to his departure.

Valerie Strauss makes a great point by comparing calls for Duncan’s resignation to those of King’s. She writes that last year,

the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, called on him to resign. And Congress is now considering legislation to rewrite No Child Left Behind that would sharply reduce the federal power Duncan wielded, a direct result of Duncan’s tenure. 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.

Mark Naison notes that

King was legendary for openly displaying boredom, even contempt, when teachers, parents and students spoke out at open hearings held around the state on the newly unveiled Common Core Curriculum and the tests aligned to it. Moreover, his experience with public education was almost as limited as Duncan’s consisting of three years as a charter school administrator before he moved in the New York State Education Department.

Of all of the discussion surrounding this controversial appointment, I find Naison’s comments to be the most importantly hopeful. He notes that there is a silver lining in that King did not go through confirmation hearings by Congress for this appointment which will limit his power to start new initiatives. Thank God for democracy.

What does all of this mean for Mississippi? 

Well, Mississippi has been hit hard by the reforms of Duncan’s administration. Our Legislature has passed laws that were directly influenced by the corporate reformers for whom Duncan has been a poster child. We have state leaders going on talk radio saying things like if Initiative 42 passes, we might have to fund arts education. Some leaders have gone so far in trying to prevent funding our public schools as to make threats of cuts to other state agencies when there is a surplus in the state budget. All of this wreaks of the privatization of public education. The formula is obvious: starve schools of resources, let them fail, privatize.

So, even though King may have limited power, Duncan’s corporate reformer influence will continue in the making of Mississippi education policy for a long time. That seed has been planted. Those doors have been opened. We are falling down that rabbit hole.

A very well-respected educator once told me to hunker down and brace for that fall. However, I choose not to take that attitude. I choose to pay attention. I educate myself on the politics surrounding education. I advocate for my students, my state, and my profession. I will be a very well-informed voter. I will abide by the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics which requires me to properly represent facts concerning educational matters and advocate for fair and equitable opportunities for all children. I choose to actively participate in this democracy, which gives me hope.

Won’t you join me?

Together, we can grab hold and climb out of that rabbit hole.


Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

One thought on “Koonlaba: More of the Same: King to replace Duncan and what it means

  1. Pingback: Mississippi Education Blog | Koonlaba: Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *