NEW YORK (AP) The nation's top educator said Thursday that his embattled New York counterpart is an "amazing leader."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also said the state has emerged as a pacesetter in early education and higher standards.

Commissioner John B. King Jr., who appeared with Duncan at New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, announced several initiatives, including a $16 million grant program to evaluate and streamline local testing. A pool of top teachers will shape new Common Core curriculum, he said.

Duncan's endorsement came days after the state's largest teachers union targeted King with a "no confidence" vote. After the NYU event, King called the vote a product of "politics" surrounding the state's implementation of Common Core standards and related teacher evaluations.

Both leaders acknowledged "drama" surrounding the implementation of revised testing and teacher evaluations stemming from new Common Core standards. During his address to students and invited guests, Duncan didn't specifically say "Common Core," but spoke at length about its principles and goals.

Duncan and King said students will ultimately benefit from higher nationwide standards and learning that better prepares them for college and the workforce.

Duncan called education "the civil rights issue of our generation."