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public schools helped me survive

Former Education Secretary's Perspective: 'Public Schools Helped Me Survive'

We hear a lot these days about how America’s public schools are “failing.”

Supporters of school choice, voucher, and tax-credit programs frame these options as escape hatches from a failing public school system.

Take, for instance, Denisha Merriweather.

In his address last week to Congress, President Trump told Denisha’s story of going from a struggling, low-income public school student to a private school success, thanks to the support of Florida’s tax-credit scholarship. As this Washington Post story reports, the President used Merriweather’s experience as anecdotal evidence of the power of school choice to save low-income students from the failures of public schools.

But that message is misleading, former education secretary John King says in a new interview with The 74.

Orphaned at age 12, King tells The 74 that the New York and New Jersey public schools he attended helped rescue him from a life of trauma.

And, though there’s a lot of work still to be done to make sure every student gets a quality education, King says America’s public schools have the power to transform students’ lives.

But, he says, that will only happen when students are challenged, appreciated, and engaged.

Student engagement success story

King’s accomplishments speak for themselves: Harvard graduate; charter school founder and principal; New York commissioner of education; secretary of education.

King credits his success to the support of public school teachers who gave him hope after both of his parents died by the time he was 12.

As he told The 74:

“I had amazing, dedicated public school teachers who created a safe and supportive environment for me. They made school a place that was challenging, engaging, and interesting, and it was only because of those teachers that I was able to survive that period.”

King’s experience highlights the vital need for schools to provide an inviting school climate, as well as the important roles teachers and school leaders play in ensuring every child gets the attention they need.

Equal engagement for all

King’s life mission is to ensure every student receives the same support he did when he was a student, no matter their income level or ethnicity, he tells The 74.

“I’ve always believed the key is to make sure that those interactions between teachers and students are as successful as possible, both in terms of academic skills students get and also social/emotional development.”

It’s why he placed such a heavy emphasis on civil rights issues during his tenure as secretary of education. King says the federal government should have a role in ensuring quality education is distributed equally in every community.

What steps are you taking to ensure every student gets the attention they need and deserve? Tell us in the comments.

Want more on how school quality translates to student success? Read Why school climate is vital to school quality.