President Barack Obama's choice to serve as Education Secretary says he rose to his current position because New York City public school teachers "literally saved my life."

Deputy Education Secretary John B. King Jr. delivers remarks after being nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama to be the next head of the Education Department in the State Dining Room at the White House October 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images)

In prepared testimony for his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, John B. King Jr., told the story of his mother's death when he was eight and his father's passing four years later. Both were educators.

He cited two of his New York teachers -- "Mr. Osterweil" and "Miss D" -- for his success. "If not for them, I could not have survived that turbulent period, and I certainly wouldn't be sitting before you today," King said.

King, who began his career in education teaching high school social studies, joined the department in January 2015. He oversaw federal education programs for preschool through 12th grade before being tapped by Obama late last year to succeed longtime secretary Arne Duncan, who stepped down in December. King is currently serving as acting secretary.

The committee is considering King's nomination as lawmakers assess how the government implements a new law covering elementary and secondary education. The legislation passed with strong bipartisan support last year, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has promised to give King "a prompt and fair" hearing.

Before coming to Washington, King served as commissioner of education for the state of New York, where he pushed an ambitious improvement agenda for the state's public schools. During his 3 1/2 years as commissioner, King became a lightning rod for criticism over linking student test scores to teacher evaluations and a rushed implementation of the Common Core academic standards for grades K-12. The state's largest teachers' union said upon his departure that it had "disagreed sharply and publicly with the commissioner on many issues."

The bipartisan education law is a makeover of the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, which ushered in a new era of testing and accountability. Under the landmark 2002 law, Washington played a significant role in how schools and teachers were judged and what kinds of sanctions to prescribe for underperformers.

Those days will be gone under the new law. The measure substantially limits the federal government's influence, barring the Education Department from telling states and local districts how to assess the performance of schools and teachers. Instead, states and districts must come up with their own goals for schools, design their own measures of achievement and progress, and decide how to turn around struggling schools.

"The new law provides a renewed opportunity to focus on preparing every young person for success in college and future careers, and that demographics do not determine destiny," King said in his testimony.

He said the country needs a "reset" in the dialogue over education.

"Over the last few years, education policy discussions have too often been characterized by more heat than light, especially where educators are concerned," he said. "Despite the best of intentions, teachers and principals, at times, have felt attacked and unfairly blamed. All of us, at the local, state, and federal level, have to take responsibility for the climate that exists."

Senate Republicans have stalled many of Obama's nominees in recent months over various issues. But Alexander has been pressing for the White House to nominate a secretary since Obama signed the new education law. He said he didn't think it was appropriate to go a whole year without a secretary firmly in place and at the time pledged to "work to have that person immediately confirmed."

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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