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John King on the Teacher Shortage, Homeschooling and ESSA

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Washington, D.C.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. thinks that the reasons behind current teacher shortages—highlighted in this recent report from the Learning Policy Institute—vary from region to region. 

Some states, particularly in the Northeast, have far more elementary school teachers than they can employ, King noted at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. But those states don't have nearly enough teachers who are trained in math and science, or to work with English-language learners and students with disabilities.

"In some states you [have to] match the supply to where the real need is," he said. "In other states, Midwestern and Southern states that have chronically low salaries are having trouble attracting teachers" particularly to rural areas, King said.

"I think there is a need to worry about the teacher supply and demand but it has to be a more nuanced conversation," he added. Policymakers shouldn't be pushing to try to prepare more elementary school teachers in northeastern states, for example, since "that would be a misreading" of the problem, King said. 

Homeschooling Concerns

King was also asked what he thinks of the recent uptick in homeschooling. Some of his classmates at Harvard University were homeschooled, King said, and were well prepared for college. 

But he also worries that homeschoolers may not get the kind of interaction with other adults or much experience with their peers, "unless their parents are very intentional about it."

King also addressed the Senate bill to renew federal career and technical education programs. The bill—which represents the largest source of federal funding for high schools—passed the House with big bipartisan support. But it hit a snag on the other side of the Capitol, when Senate Republicans' reauthorization bill seeks to place limitations on the secretary's authority, in part because they are unhappy with how King has handled regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"It's very promising that there was strong bipartisan [support] for the House bill and we hope the Senate will follow and not get mired in partisan debates, " King said.   

On a wonkier issue: King said that he hasn't yet figured out a timeline for naming peer-reviewers for state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. The identity of peer reviewers may seem like a detail, but they can have a serious impact on which plans get approved and which don't.

It'll be up to the peer reviewers to decide whether states have done a good job of addressing test participation, subgroup accountability and other issues in their ESSA plans. 

Photo: Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 21. (Brian Dozier)


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