Ed Secretary Duncan introduces race into Common Core Controversy

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wishes the controversy over Common Core curricula would just disappear. He belittled those parents who take issue with it by playing the race card.


Education Secretary Arne Duncan realized fairly quickly that he had stumbled.

He had just told a gathering of state superintendents of education that "white suburban moms" were rebelling against the Common Core academic standards - new guidelines for math and language arts instruction - because their kids had done poorly on the tough new tests.

"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 ... and that's pretty scary," Duncan said at the event Friday.

Two hours later, with those comments sparking outrage on social media, Duncan told POLITICO that he "didn't say it perfectly." But he stood by his thesis: To oppose the Common Core is to oppose progress.

This man was in charge of educating 700,000 Chicago school kids before being plucked by his friend Barack Obama to be education secretary. When he left as Chicago school superintendent, the graduation rate was less than 50% and 70% of high school seniors couldn't read at a 12th grade level.

With an attitude like that, is it any wonder?

"Do we want more for our kids, or do we want less?" Duncan said. "Do we want higher standards or not?"

That's the debate that Duncan dearly wants to have.

It's not, however, the debate he's getting.

To the immense frustration of Common Core supporters, an eclectic array of critics have raised sustained and impassioned objections about the new standards. From New York to Florida to Michigan to Louisiana, their voices are so loud and their critiques so varied that they have muddied the narrative around Common Core. It's no longer a focused national debate about high standards; it's hundreds of local debates, about everything from student privacy rights to cursive handwriting to computerized testing to the value of Shakespeare.

Over the summer, Duncan complained that opponents were "fringe groups" who make "outlandish claims" about "really wacky stuff" such as "mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping." There is undoubtedly some of that.

But there are also substantive critiques from all corners. Catholic scholars say the standards aren't rigorous enough. Early childhood experts say they demand too much. Liberals complain the Common Core opens the door to excessive testing. Conservatives complain it opens the door to federal influence in local schools. Teachers don't like the new textbooks. Parents don't like the new homework.

Whenever an educator gets in trouble for trying some wacky scheme on our kids, he rolls out the word "progress" and expects all debate to cease at that point.

Sorry, but American parents are on to Duncan and his cohorts. Are we really, truly going to ask the very same people who have destroyed public education to reform it? Frankly, it isn't so much "standards" that are the problem with Common Core, which makes Duncan's racial slap all the more ridiculous. It is, in some respects, the content and in others, the interpretation of that content by local school boards that is the driving force behind opposition to the new curricula.

The voices opposing Common Core are becoming louder and more united. This is the first real pushback by parents against the far left who are dominating primary and secondary education. The wars over textbooks are nothing compared with the drive to stop such a radical change in what and how our children are taught.

And Duncan is going to find that a lot more Americans than "white suburban moms" oppose him.

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