On Friday, Sept. 16, I spoke with U.S. Secretary John King about his first—and possibly last—back-to-school bus tour that the Obama administration has held every year.
King called the Opportunity Across America back-to-school bus tour inspiring. “We’re seeing so many good things happening in schools,” he said, although he has also acknowledged that more work needs to be done.
So what does this five-day tour through six states and 11 cities and towns reveal about what President Obama and his administration care about?
- The Obama administration cares about technology. The secretary told me that the tour included stops in middle schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, where technology was being used “in smart ways”: “Kids were using computer-assisted design and 3-D printers—the teachers were doing a great job integrating technology into instruction. In Bristol, they used tech across disciplines, and teachers used it as a tool to support their work with students.
- The Obama administration cares about free community college. In Knoxville, Tennessee, President Obama had announced his America’s College Promise proposal of two years of community college free to hard-working students. Since that time, more than 30 communities have adopted promise initiatives, King told me, and Tennessee is one.
- The Obama administration cares about second chances. The bus also visited a correctional facility in Harvest, Alabama, that is making use of Pell grants. “The men there are learning horticulture, drafting, HVAC, welding—acquiring skills they’ll be able to use when they go back to their communities. They’re motivated,” King said.
- The Obama administration cares about those who want to go to college. In Memphis, King says he and other senior department officials attended a student rally where he talked about college admissions and the College Scorecard, which can help families decide which school is right for them by providing useful information like graduation rates, average earnings, and cost.
- The Obama administration cares about early learning. At the Arkansas stop, the focus was on high-quality preschool and how a grant was helping the state add thousands of seats in high-quality early learning centers. “This is translating into 35,000 more seats in high-quality preschool across 18 states.”
King clearly loves what he’s doing. Would he be willing to stay on?
“I’m focused 100% on doing all I can to further the goals of the Obama administration between now and Jan. 20,” he told me. “The president’s message to the team is that we’re going to run through the tape, and we have an ambitious agenda until then. Whatever happens after that will take care of itself.”