Remarks Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr., to serve as Education Secretary

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Remarks Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr., to serve as Education Secretary

February 25, 2016

Thank you, Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and members of the Committee for welcoming me here today. I am humbled and honored to appear before you as President Obama's nominee for education secretary.

I am proud to be here today with my wife, Melissa, and our two wonderful daughters, Amina and Mireya.

I am grateful to the President for his faith in me.

I am appreciative of this Committee's hard work and continued focus on behalf of our nation's learners.

And I am mindful of how remarkable it is that I am here at all.

As some of you may know, I believe education is the difference between hope and despair – between life and death, even – because it was for me.

I grew up in Brooklyn; the son two lifelong New York City public school educators. Although I never had the chance to know them well, my parents' faith in education continues to inspire me.

When I was eight, my mother died of a heart attack. My father passed away just four years later—after suffering through undiagnosed Alzheimer's that made our home a scary, unpredictable place.

Amidst that trauma and uncertainty, school was my refuge, and teachers were my saviors. And it is because there are so many young people out there like me that I feel such urgency about the work of education.

Thanks to the efforts of this Committee, the Obama Administration, and our nation's educators and parents, there are many reasons to feel hopeful.

Last year, we achieved the highest graduation rate we've ever had as a country. Since 2008, we have halved the number of "dropout factory" high schools. Tens of thousands of children now have access to high-quality preschool and millions more students have access to higher education.

These are meaningful, positive steps.

And yet, so much work remains.

For all their progress, students from less advantage backgrounds still lag behind their peers in nearly every important measure of school achievement.

And in far too many schools, we still offer them less—less access to the best teachers and the most challenging courses; less access to the resources necessary to thrive.

So we have urgent work to do.

But I believe we stand well-positioned for that work, in part thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new law preserves the critical federal role to ensure guardrails to protect civil rights. But the locus of decision-making is rightly shifting back to states and districts—and away from the one-size-fits-all mandates of No Child Left Behind. As a former teacher, principal, and state commissioner, I know from personal experience that the best ideas come from classrooms, not from conference rooms.

The new law creates a renewed opportunity to focus on equity and new freedom for state and local leaders to establish better, more balanced ways of assessing student learning.

Together, I hope we can harness the bipartisan momentum of its passage to transform career and technical education and to advance college access, affordability, and completion.

It won't be easy—the most critical work rarely is. But I sit here today ready for the challenge, and mindful of its tremendous urgency.

If you'll indulge me, I'll close with a story about my father that captures that sense of urgency.

My father loved basketball, and one weekend, while playing, he broke his wrist. When he went to work on Monday, the principal told him wouldn't be able to teach. The principal said there was a regulation back then about not teaching with a cast, and the principal refused to budge.

So my father walked over to the counter and smashed the cast into pieces. Then he brushed those pieces into a trashcan, put his hand in his suit pocket, and went to teach his class.

My father knew that schools save lives. And though he couldn't have possibly imagined it then, I sit here decades later as living proof that he was right. Like my parents; like the President and First Lady; like all of you, I believe that education is at the heart of our promise of equality of opportunity for all Americans.

If confirmed, it will be my great privilege and honor to continue working with you to realize that promise in the months ahead.

Thank you again for your consideration. I look forward to your questions.