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John B. King Jr.: Supporters of Public Schools Must Put Aside Their Differences


U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. urged advocates of public education to put aside their differences and work together to continue to build on improved student outcomes.

"For all who believe that strong, equitable public education is central to a healthy democracy and a thriving economy, now is the moment for us to set aside the policy differences that we have let divide us, and move forward together courageously to defend and extend this fundamental American institution," King said.

King's year-long tenure has been marked by big fights between different groups, all of whom consider themselves advocates of public education. Civil rights organizations and teachers' unions, for instance, have tussled over everything from testing to a wonky set of spending rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

But those groups are likely to come together to help fight a possible push for school vouchers from the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos, the President-elect's pick for education secretary, has been a long-time advocate for school choice, including for vouchers to private and religious schools.

King also went through some of what he sees as the Obama administration's accomplishments on education, including greater college enrollment by minority students, and record high graduation rates. (However, experts say it's unclear if higher graduation rates are really a sign that students are learning more, and tough to say whether Obama's policies can be credited with improving them.)

During a question-and-answer period, King was asked whether he's worried that President-elect Donald Trump's administration would weaken the Education Department's office for civil rights, which helps ensure that schools are providing an adequate and appropriate education to English-language learners and students.

King noted that past administrations haven't always used the office to its fullest potential. But he said, advocates were able to put pressure on the feds to go

And he was asked about charter schools, which a Government Accountability Office study found often decline to enroll populations of students that are difficult to teach, including English-language learners and students in special education.

"Charter authorizing matters a lot," King said. Some states he said, have "delinquent" charter authorizers. "We all need to be active in the state legislative discussion. We've got to lift up the examples of schools that are doing thing" and taking in different groups of students, King said.

The charter landscape in Michigan, DeVos' home state, has been described as everything from "a thousand flowers blooming" to the "wild, wild west" in part because it has a patchwork of authorizers. More on Michigan's charters in this great blog post from my colleague Arianna Prothero.

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