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How will the new education secretary shape the law replacing No Child Left Behind?
Charged with launching the new education law, will John King will follow the freelancing paths of his former boss? - photo by Eric Schulzke
Six months after Arne Duncan announced he was retiring as education secretary, President Obama formally nominated acting Secretary John King this week for a short tenure of great significance.

Less than a year in office, most department secretaries would be seen as a lame duck, but with the overwhelming passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in December, King will be in a position to implement and help shape the new law, which replaced the controversial 15-year-old No Child Left Behind program.

In theory, he takes over a department much less powerful than it was just two months ago. The NCLB had endowed the education secretary with unprecedented power, because the strict targets the law required each state to achieve were unachievable. By 2014, this had left all states "out of compliance," which would subject them to severe financial consequences that they could only escape through waivers granted by the Department of Education.

For several years, Duncan had been able to freelance education policy outside of the law, because there were no real limits on what he could require as a condition of granting these waivers.

If we had a national school board, Arne would be a great chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander told Politico. But Americans dont want a national school board. He doesnt seem to understand that. Alexander is the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a former education secretary under the first President Bush.

The education law that passed in December garnered broad bipartisan support through a strange bedfellows alliance between conservatives who sought to return power from Washington to the states and teacher union advocates, who objected to the testing mandates emanating from Washington.

Rick Petrilli, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Fordham Institute, took to Twitter to refer to the new ESSA as the "Education Secretary Stay Away Act." The bipartisan replacement, as Petrilli suggested in his Tweet, sharply constrains the education secretary's power.

But in his exit interviews with the media, Duncan did not sound at all chastened, telling Politico that the bill entailed "the core of our agenda from day one."

As King takes over, skeptics likes Rick Hess, at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that "both Duncan and King have seemed to suggest a desire to ignore parts of the statute and to imply that the rightness of their cause dwarfs picayune questions of legality."

King signaled his own emphasis for the next year in a January speech on Martin Luther King Day, where he emphasized educational equity, diversity and integration in schools.

Research shows that one of the best things we can do for all children black or white, rich or poor is give them a chance to attend strong, socio-economically diverse schools, King declared, calling for innovative, voluntary locally driven efforts to promote socio-economic diversity in schools.

"It was music to the ears of civil-rights activists," the American Prospect reported, "who saw it as a sharp departure from Duncans emphasis on standards, testing and charter schooling over integrating schools."

At the same time, there is justifiable concern among Republicans about how the department is handling the implementation of the massive new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially given Duncans inflammatory remarks on the way out the door and some of Kings recent statements. Both Duncan and King have seemed to suggest a desire to ignore parts of the statute and to imply that the rightness of their cause dwarfs questions of legality.
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