Education Commissioner Johnny Key: ‘Teachers Know Best’

Apr 13, 2015

Education Commissioner Johnny Key on Talk Business & Politics.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

Newly installed state Education Commissioner Johnny Key laid out his philosophy for public education in Arkansas, stating he was a strong supporter of Common Core and wants to find ways to empower teachers and strengthen leadership in order to improve schools.

“My philosophy is that teachers know best and we need to build from the ground up,” said Key, a former Mountain Home state Senator tapped by Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month to lead the state’s education department.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Monday at 6:06 p.m. on KUAR, Key said empowering teachers also involves improving leadership in the management ranks at the district level.

“It seems counter-intuitive, but you have to have strong leaders at the district and building levels. Strong leaders are going to empower the teachers to be the ones to have that ground up approach.”

Key said he has researched the controversial Common Core standards and is a strong supporter of the national effort. A task force led by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin will study Common Core and make recommendations on potential education standards in Arkansas later this year.

“Districts that implemented Common Core, getting teachers involved in the early stages, deciding what worked at the classroom level – instead of having a top-down approach where someone in the central office said, ‘This is how we’re going to do Common Core,’ – those are the districts that have actually seen excellence in making that adjustment,” Key said.

He is not sure that relabeling or rebranding Common Core will make a difference in the opposing viewpoints in the debate.

“If you place another label on it, it may or may not work,” he added.

As for another significant education controversy – state takeovers of local school districts in financial or academic distress – Key said he does not plan to change that approach because of Supreme Court rulings that mandate the state step in when needed “unless there is some change in the legal precedent.”

Watch his full interview below.