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John King at his nomination to serve as Secretary of Education. (Photo: House Committee on Education/flickr/cc)

Obama's Education Secretary Pick a 'Lackey of the Corporate Machine'

Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, education experts among those criticizing policies supported by John King

Andrea Germanos

Noted intellectual Noam Chomsky, author and activist Naomi Klein, and education historian Diane Ravitch are among those urging the U.S. Senate to reject President Barack Obama's pick for the next education secretary, saying the policies he's supported "have been ineffective and destructive to schools, educators, and most importantly students."

Their concerns are outlined in a letter published by the Washington Post on Thursday.

Obama's choice is John King, who's held the position of Acting Secretary of Education since the departure of Arne Duncan. King has already received an "astounding pass" from the Senate education committee last month, as Valerie Strauss wrote in an earlier story for the Post. At the hearings, he "was not asked one single direct question about the tumultuous 3 ½ years he spent as the commissioner of education in New York state. Not by Republicans, and not by Democrats," she wrote.

King's critics have previously pointed out that he was a teacher for a mere three years, has been a fervent supporter of charter schools and high-stakes testing, displayed "autocratic behavior as state commissioner of education [which] spurred a massive parent opt out from state testing," and was hit with the charge of being "responsible for more attacks on public educators than almost anyone else."

The new missive against his holding the position, which was also signed by award winning author Jonathan Kozol, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, and the Network for Public Education, charges, "John King is the wrong candidate and he will follow the failed strategies of Mr. Duncan."

It was penned in great part by 20-year-old Nikhil Goyal, author of the just published book, Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice.

Goyal told Salon that the letter is "yet another sign of the growing resistance in the United States against corporate, neoliberal reform — school closures, standardized testing, and Common Core standards."

He also said,"[King's] agenda is just as terrible and oppressive as the former Secretary Arne Duncan," adding, "This country needs a secretary of education who will help bring some sanity into our classrooms, not a lackey of the corporate machine."

The letter is posted in full below:

To the U.S. Senate,

As educators, students, parents, and activists, we are writing to strongly urge you to reject the confirmation of John King, President Obama’s nominee for the Secretary of Education. We believe he is the wrong choice for the position.

Research and evidence demonstrate that the education policies that John King has supported throughout his career, such as the Common Core standards, the collection of private student information, and high-stakes standardized testing, have been ineffective and destructive to schools, educators, and most importantly students.

As New York State Education Commissioner, he was an unapologetic supporter of the Common Core standards and inBloom. His policies failed. While test scores are flawed metrics, in 2013, just 31 percent of students in New York passed the English and math standardized tests, the first tests to be aligned to the Common Core and in three years the scores have barely budged. The achievement gap grew. Last year, over 200,000 students opted out of the tests.

Educators, parents, and students as well as the state teachers union and other public education advocacy groups called for King’s resignation. His style is inflexible and he is quick to criticize the motives of those with whom he disagrees. He persistently refused to consider the desperate pleas of students and teachers who were reporting that the Common Core and value-added teacher evaluations were not working.

The American public deserves a Secretary of Education who will advocate for their interests, not those of the testing corporations who profit from the Common Core. We also deserve a Secretary who respects the importance of schools governed by communities, not by federal mandate.

Senators should not be misled by vague promises to do better as King offered at a recent hearing. John King is the wrong candidate and he will follow the failed strategies of Mr. Duncan. We strongly urge you to reject his nomination and recommend to President Obama that he nominate a candidate who will bring a progressive perspective to the department as it implements the Every Student Succeeds Act.



Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus), MIT

Naomi Klein, Award-winning journalist and author

Diane Ravitch, Research Professor, New York University

Jonathan Kozol, National Book Award-winning author

Deborah Meier, Senior Scholar, New York University and 1987 MacArthur Fellow

Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate

Lucas Neff, Actor

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union

Jeff Sharlet, Associate Professor of English, Dartmouth College

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Center for African American Studies, Princeton University

Carla Shedd, Assistant Professor of Sociology & African American Studies, Columbia University

Alfie Kohn, Acclaimed author on education

Nikhil Goyal, Author of the book Schools On Trial and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree

Linda Nathan, Senior Lecturer, Boston University

Steve Cohen, Lecturer, Tufts University

Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Professor emerita, Lesley University

Mary Beth Tinker, Free speech activist

Andrew Hartman, Associate Professor, Illinois State University

Henry Giroux, Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University

Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California

Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Chapman University

Mark Naison, Professor of History, Fordham University

Robert Buchanan, Undergraduate Faculty, Goddard College

Eva Swidler, Undergraduate Faculty, Goddard College

Lois Weiner, Professor of Education, New Jersey City University

Lawrence Brown, Assistant Professor, School of Community Health and Policy, Morgan State University

Jeanette Deutermann, Founder of Long Island Opt Out and parent

M. Zachary Mezera, Executive director of the Providence Student Union

Israel Munoz, Co-founder of the Chicago Student Union

Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education

Raynard Sanders, Radio host of The New Orleans Imperative

Howie Hawkins, 2014 Green Party candidate for NY Governor

Brian Jones, 2014 Green Party candidate for NY Lieutenant Governor

Benji Cohen, Doctoral history student, University of Virginia

Brian LeCloux, Wisconsin high school psychology teacher

Doug Henwood, Journalist and NYC public school parent

Liza Featherstone, amNY columnist, educator and NYC public school parent

Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Education, California State University Sacramento

Wayne Au, Associate Professor of Education, University of Washington, Bothell

Jeff Bryant, Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future

Arnold Dodge, Associate Professor/Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, Long Island University Post

Anthony Cody, Author and educator

Lisa Edstrom, Brooklyn parent and educator

Rita Green, Alaska, Oregon, WA, Seattle/King County NAACP Education Chair

Nancy K. Cauthen, Sociologist

Jia Lee, Educator and 2016 UFT presidential candidate

Julie Cavanagh, Educator and 2013 MORE/UFT presidential candidate

Michael Klonsky, Executive Director at The Small Schools Workshop and educator

Monty Neill, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)

Jason Endacott, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies Education, University of Arkansas

Chris Goering, Associate Professor, English Education, University of Arkansas

Lisa Rudley, Executive Director and Founding Member, NYS Allies for Public Education

Meg Norris, Founder/Director of Opt Out Georgia

Bianca Tanis, NYS Allies for Public Education

Katie Zahedi, NYS Allies for Public Education


The Network for Public Education

New York State Allies for Public Education

Change the Stakes

New York City Opt Out


Save Our Schools

Long Island Opt-Out

Parents Across Rhode Island

Opt Out Georgia

Time Out From Testing

Badass Teachers Association

Network for Public Education Action

Philly Neighborhood Networks

The Opt Out Florida Network

The North Country Alliance for Public Education

National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)

United Opt Out National

Half Hollow Hills Teachers’ Association

Teaching, Not Testing: A New Narrative for Education

Citizens for Public Schools, Massachusetts

Rethinking Schools


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