Arne Duncan vs. Oklahoma
In yet another stunning example of his lack of knowledge about life outside the elitist Washington bubble, Arne Duncan came out swinging at Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin during a press conference yesterday (6/9) for signing the bill (HB3399) to end the Common Core State Standards initiative in Oklahoma.
Apparently, pure politics caused the governor (current Chair of the National Governor's Association, who along with the Council of Chief School Officers propelled a set of education standards into national lexicon) to abandon Common Core for her state. Apparently the thousands of parents who wrote letters, sent emails and called Governor Fallin's office urging her to sign HB3399 during the interim between passage (5/23) and signing (6/5), have been downgraded to political widgets in a game of chicken between a state and the federal government.
It's interesting how quickly the anti-Common Core forces, once vilified as "conspiracy theorists", "fearmongers" and "liars" have become vindicated since -- and by Duncan's own hand no less. Duncan's latest temper tantrum can't help but make it readily apparent to even the passing skeptic that there must be something to the legions of arguments connecting Common Core and federal overreach into public education.
Truly, no one (including the Fordham Institute or Bill Gates) has been able to effectively mount an argument supporting the stake the U.S. Department of Education has in Oklahoma's education standards. Really, what does Arne Duncan care what standards Oklahoma uses to educate its children? What difference can it mean to Duncan?
Oklahoma -- and the other 49 states -- got along for hundreds of years without education via national standards offered as carrots for federal programming dollars. In fact, it wasn't until 1970 -- after the first real federal intervention into local public education (President Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act) -- that America saw the beginning of the tremendous decline in public education we fight today.
Though Duncan stood at the podium and spewed forth all sorts of 'facts' regarding Oklahoma's 'dismal' education results, saying that "40 percent of high school graduates" in Oklahoma "have to take remedial classes when they go to college" and only "25 percent of Oklahoma's eighth-graders in math are proficient", he selectively declined to articulate a number of equally amazing facts about the state.
Recently, EdWeek released its State Education Highlights for 2014 and Oklahoma's report contained some surprising statistics. Oklahoma's increase in 4th grade math scores is 9.8% -- 2.6% above the national average -- and this data was accumulated before Common Core was available statewide.
True, Oklahoma's 8th-grade math scores are nothing to write home about, but there is no reason Oklahoma can't utilize for 8th graders the methods used for 4th graders that appear to have created such a shining example for the nation in math gains. Clearly Oklahoma has the tools and the talent to make that happen within the confines of its own borders.
In his speech, Duncan does two things -- he apparently makes up a percentage of students needing remediation off the top of his head (the source of the 40% figure remains unmentioned) -- and he never answers the question given him on two separate occasions by the press (Are you going to dock Oklahoma federal education funds for their impudence?) Could it be he plays just as fast and loose with his education facts as he does with policy? The answer here must be a clear, "yup".
Another thing Duncan doesn't mention in his disjointed diatribe are the following facts pulled from the aforementioned document:
- Oklahoma is second in the nation in the category of "steady employment" (adults in labor force working full time and year-round)
- Oklahoma is 17th in the nation in the category of "parental employment" (children with at least one parent working full time and year-round)
For all Arne's posturing about educational 'equity', he should be genuflecting and kissing Governor Fallin's ring, instead of filleting her like a fish for the press.
Maybe Oklahoma is not like New York, California, or D.C. after all. Maybe the secret to Oklahoma's successful economic engine (both Oklahoma's sales tax and corporate income tax collections boasted gains again during May) is providing an excellent career-ready education that allows students to go directly into the career-tech system and on into the thousands of skilled labor technical jobs currently open across Oklahoma and the U.S.
As Oklahoma City's Bob Funk of Express Personnel says,
"There is a shortage of skilled labor technical jobs, and many young people who could fill those jobs are getting college degrees in areas where there are no jobs waiting for them when they graduate."
So... (as Arne often begins sentences -- most likely as a stall technique while his brain thinks of some wild statistic to pull out of its dark recesses) maybe college isn't for everybody. Though even us simpletons in the Bible belt want our children to have an excellent education -- an education through which our kids must meet (and even exceed) high educational expectations -- we also understand our kids can make good in life without a very expensive piece of paper stamped by an institution labeled "University".
Across Oklahoma, from the oil fields to the wheat fields, there are jobs to be filled by individuals skilled in the vocation that made America a world power -- labor. Oklahoma isn't east or west coast, neither is it claimed by north or south; Oklahoma is its own animal. Like many of the flyover states, we need to prepare students for our share of the 100,000 skilled technical labor jobs nationwide for which there are only 40,000 graduates.
It is only reasonable to believe most parents prefer gainful employment for their children over thousands of dollars in student debt to an institute of higher learning in a degree area for which they are unemployable. Considering the obvious lack of basic economics knowledge owned by our nation's Education Secretary, is it any wonder Oklahoma parents told Duncan and his standards to take a hike?
Jenni White is President of Restore Oklahoma Public Education www.RestoreOkPublicEducation.com