School is often more than just a place for learning. For John King, it was a safe haven. School was a place he could go to and finally feel like a child. Public school systems saved his life and have since helped him change the lives of others.
The former U.S. Secretary of Education spoke June 3 at The Mind Trust’s Celebrating Education Progress event. The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that advocates for charter and Innovation Network Schools.
King, a leading voice in educational inequity, highlighted what schools can and should be through hard work, dedication and accountability.
Both of King’s parents died before he was 12, making home a scary and unstable place. But according to King, New York City public school teachers saved his life.
“It was always teachers who made school have a sense of hope,” King said.
King believes a well-rounded education starts as early as preschool. While being in school is important, having proper assistance throughout school is just as crucial. Resources often lack in marginalized areas, and students of color are less likely to attend schools with advanced coursework.
“All students deserve resources,” King said.
King praised Indiana schools for working to combat these systemic issues. According to King, Indiana charter schools have been giving students substantial educational opportunities. But he made it clear that they should never be satisfied.
“You need a commitment to do more and do it faster,” King said.
King believes it is necessary to provide access to safe and supportive environments, specifically where vulnerable students are most affected. He believes it is important to recognize trauma and its impact on students.
African Americans are three times more likely than their peers to be suspended from school, King said. This starts as early as pre-K, with 48 percent of suspended students being African American.
“It should not be a school-to-prison pipeline,” King said. “I was blessed people saw me as more than the sum of my mistakes.”
King highlighted the importance of diversity in education. Only 18 percent of teachers are of color, with just 2 percent being Black men. Representation matters, and King emphasized that having at least one African American teacher can enhance the learning experience of a student.
King said accountability and collaboration are key components in creating successful schools. Charter schools are not uniformly excelling, so it is necessary that successful schools support struggling schools.
He commended The Mind Trust for doing just that, through helping people learn what works.
King believes education does not end once K-12 is complete.
“It’s not just getting students across the stage but finishing college,” he said. “It is not just about getting students to college but through college.”
Contact newsroom intern Jaclyn Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org.