U.S. education secretary urges focus on students amid Trump transition

"The message is that all of us are responsible for making diversity work because diversity is access."

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. urged education leaders from across the country in Baltimore on Saturday to remain focused on students amid the impending transition to a Donald J. Trump administration.

King called on teachers have to put an end to the bullying and harassment of students because of their ethnicity, race or sexual identification and protect their civil rights.

"We all must be vigilant on those issues" and see that schools are made "safe for every child," he said to a crowd of educators attending the Council of Chief State School Officers' Annual Policy Forum.

King, who became secretary earlier this year after Arne Duncan stepped aside, also reminded council members of the strides made in education during the last eight years.

"We now have the highest graduation rate in the country and there has been a drop in the drop-out rate," said King, speaking in the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront's Harborside Ballroom. "And more students are going on to college.

He spoke of the "strongest possible preparation for teachers" and the "equitable distribution of resources" so that the schools that need it the most get them.

King also called for more diversity in teaching and getting more teachers in "the pipeline," especially "teachers of color" and retaining them, he said.

"The message is that all of us are responsible for making diversity work because diversity is access," King said, and the "joy of being a teacher is working with kids."

During his campaign, President-elect Trump stressed the importance of local control of schools, abolishing the Department of Education and ending Common Core.

"A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don't eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach," Trump wrote in his book, "Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America."

"Education has to be run locally. Common Core, No Child Left behind, and Race to the Top are all programs that take decisions away from parents and local school boards," he wrote.

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, a law passed with broad bipartisan support and signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

A representative from Trump's transition team who was scheduled to attend Saturday's event had to cancel at the last moment, according to Melissa McGrath, the director of communications, member services and outreach for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

King said he working to make the transition to the new administration as seamless as possible.

"We have a responsibility that we have continuity and a smooth transition," he said. "We have a high level of support for the incoming administration, so they can hit the ground running and continue the work."

All eyes are on the transition, since "everything is on the table," said D'Arcy Philips, an educational lobbyist and partner with the Washington firm of Penn Hill Group. "It's going to be a crazy next couple of months."

"The Department of Education has a staff of 4,200 of whom 250 are political appointees, and they will go first," Philips said. "But the rest of the staff will be there to make sure the trains continue to run in the department after the inauguration."

Chris Minnich, the council's executive director, said the department is destined to be streamlined.

"But across the board we're all about kids and what kids need," he said. "Being aggressive for the states and kids are our core values."

Eliminating the department wouldn't be easy.

"The elimination of the Department of Education would require congressional action, and that is likely not to happen at the end of the day," said Peter Zamora, the council's director of federal relations. "School choice would also require congressional action and I don't see an appetite from Congress for this."

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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