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Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, and Governor Bill Haslam, right, take part in an education forum on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Duncan defends Common Core standards
Education » Supporter says rollout worse than Obamacare.
First Published Nov 17 2013 10:53 pm • Last Updated Feb 18 2014 04:15 pm

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it "fascinating" that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from "white suburban moms who - all of a sudden - their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were."

Duncan he has said similar things before. In his advocacy for the controversial Common Core State Standards - which were approved by 45 states and the District of Columbia and are now being implemented across the country (though some states are reconsidering) - Duncan has repeatedly noted that the standards and the standardized testing that goes along with them are more difficult than students in most states have confronted.

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The Common Core was designed to elevate teaching and learning. Supporters say it does that; critics say it doesn’t and that some of the standards, especially for young children, are not developmentally appropriate. The implementation of that standards in many areas has been miserable - so miserable that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a Core supporter, recently compared it to another particularly troubled rollout, saying "You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse."

New York was the first large state to implement the standards and give students new standardized tests supposedly aligned with the Core. Test scores plummeted earlier this year. State officials had predicted the scores would drop 30 percent - and that’s exactly what happened. Opposition to the standards, both their content and their implementation, has been growing in New York (and other states) among teachers, principals, superintendents and parents, some of whom have refused to allow their children to take the exams.

On Friday, Duncan spoke in Richmond, Va., about the growing opposition to Common Core and their implementation in states around the country before a meeting of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers Organization. Education Department communications chief Massie Ritsch said in an e-mail that he does not believe that there is a full transcript of Duncan’s remarks, but he referred to the following write-up from Politico’s Libby Nelson, who was at the event:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told an audience of state superintendents this afternoon that the education Department and other Common Core supporters didn’t fully anticipate the effect t he standards would have once implemented.

"It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who - all of a sudden - their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary," Duncan said. "You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut."

Overcoming that will require communicating to parents that competition is now global, not local, he said.

Ritsch said in an e-mail that Duncan was observing that the higher standards that states have adopted to better prepare their students for college and careers are revealing that some "good" schools aren’t as strong as parents in those areas have long assumed.

"When confronted with the truth through lower test scores and other indicators, the unhelpful response, in Arne’s view, is to say ‘Let’s lower standards and go back to lying to ourselves and our children, so that our community can feel better.’ The more productive response for a community or a state is to ask, ‘What can we do to get better, so our students can graduate from high school, succeed in college and be competitive for good jobs?’ Because other communities and states are asking themselves that question and making smart improvements to their school and education systems."


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Duncan has slammed Core opponents before. At a Sept. 30 appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, he said that opposition to the Core standards had been fueled by "political silliness." In June, he told a convention of newspaper editors that Core critics were misinformed at best and laboring under paranoid delusions at worst. Duncan said:

"The Common Core has become a rallying cry for fringe groups that claim it is a scheme for the federal government to usurp state and local control of what students learn. An op-ed in the New York Times called the Common Core ‘a radical curriculum.’ It is neither radical nor a curriculum. When the critics can’t persuade you that the Common Core is a curriculum, they make even more outlandish claims."

Educators and researchers have questioned the way the standards were written (whether, for example, there was any or enough input from K-12 classroom teachers) and some criticized the content of the standards (while others praised it). Some critics don’t believe in standards-based education, and others felt it usurped local authority. More recently, tea party members have accused the administration of a federal takeover of public education, extreme right-wing rhetoric that clouds a real discussion about the Core. This year some states led by Republican governors began to pull away from the standards.

Protests by educators, parents, students and others began to grow as it became clear that the Core implementation was being rushed, and some students were being given tests said to be Core-aligned even though teachers hadn’t had enough time to create material around the standards. That’s why Duncan announced in June that he was giving the 37 states plus the District of Columbia, which had won federal waivers from the most egregious mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, an extra year to implement teacher evaluations linked to new assessments that are supposed to be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards.



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