Buffalo News Bids John King a Fond Farewell

by / Dec. 15, 2014 10am EST

The purpose of an editorial is to come down on one side of a pressing issue. Newspaper publishers are suspicious of their readership, worried that, despite their best attempts, the prejudices tucked into the day’s reporting won’t be fully assumed and accurately repeated. Alas, the man who ritually presses his face against their pages may still come away with the occasional wayward thought of his own. The editorial is an attempt to grab this rogue by the shirt and return him safely to the realm of trite phrases and accepted opinion.

One pauses when the editorial board runs afoul of its mission—when, for example, it decides to publish an unprompted note of congratulations to a state official.

Such was the case on Friday, December 12, as the editorial staff of the Buffalo News clambered up its creaky soapbox to give a firm, public clap on the back to outgoing New York State Education Commissioner John King.

Given King’s tumultuous three and a half years in the seat, it’s odd that the News was so eager to wave its flag behind him as he walks away.

It’s less odd considering the News’ unabashed cheerleading for the King agenda.

At the Washington Post Carol Burris outlined King’s failures by comparing his incoming promises to his outgoing legacy: 1) the flop of his teacher evaluation system; 2) the bust of inBloom, the data collecting system designed to sell private student info to for-profit companies; 3) the disastrous roll-out of the Common Core testing regime; and 4) the disappointment of measurable student achievements.

Regarding the last point, Burris points out that after three and a half years of King as EC, “Common Core proficiency rates are a disaster…available state data on college remediation shows no improvement [and] graduation rates in New York have increased by less than 1 percentage point.”    

Whereas the News affirms that King’s departure for the federal government proves his value, Burris demurs that his “move to Washington during the final two years of a lame duck administration is hardly a promotion.”

Whereas the News generously praised King’s steadfastness in the face of principals, teachers and parents who criticized him, another editorial, by the Journal News found his stubbornness counterproductive.

“This attitude should serve him well in Washington, where Education Secretary [Arne] Duncan is also impervious to critics,” the Journal sneered.

Andy Smarick, writing for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggests that we may have witnessed the high tide of the so-called reform movement in education. King’s departure is symptomatic of a larger movement away from the agenda his kind championed:

“Given that almost all sitting governors will have no formal ties to Race to the Top and were elected during an era of increased resistance to federal K–12 obtrusiveness, we might predict increased aversion to ‘national’ reforms, the avoidance of controversy, an inward focus, and the elevation of in-state educators to the top job.”

The last clause, regarding the move away from career administrators into top spots to career teachers, is the most important, as raises a pertinent question for NYS, which is now in the market for a new EC. 

The Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Merryl Tisch, launches a search committee to find King’s replacement this week, meeting in Albany on Monday.

The New York Daily News, noting that 2015 will be a pivotal year for Common Core, predicts that Tisch is looking to find “a likeminded state education officer to replace…John King.”

The Buffalo News’ fawning valediction to King is a more roundabout method for saying the same thing.