Education Secretary: 'Ideologues and Extremists' Blocking Common Core

As more states mull a break with the Common Core standards, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan blamed “ideologues and extremists” for standing in the way of the education reform the new standards represent.

Steve Contorno at the Washington Examiner reported Monday that Duncan struck a “combative tone,” and called it “political silliness” that conservatives opposed to Common Core were accusing the Obama administration of attempting to take over local school districts.

Duncan also criticized those on the left who have fought greater emphasis on teacher and school evaluations, though he did not specifically name teachers’ unions, a major Democrat support base that has opposed them.

"You have some members of Congress who think the federal government has no role in public education, not as a backstop for accountability, not as a partner for enforcing laws and expanding educational opportunity and not as a supporter of innovation," Duncan said. "At the opposite extreme, other commentators declare a permanent state of crisis... and they call for the most disruptive changes possible."

Though Duncan criticized conservatives who say Common Core is an intrusion by the federal government into the duties of states and local government, he was speaking at the National Press Club as part of an effort to pressure Congress and states to act on the new standards. States are incentivized to adopt Common Core by grants provided through Race To The Top, a program funded by President Obama’s stimulus bill.

In addition, Duncan repeated Obama’s push for preschool funding, calling for higher pay for teachers that is “on par with other professions and reward those… taking on the toughest of assignments.”

Duncan took the opportunity to take a stab at the Tea Party:

Duncan, who has served as education secretary for all of Obama's time in office, said he has seen a similar unwillingness in moderate Republicans to take on the Tea Party regarding education issues for fear of retribution from a conservative base that has grown increasingly skeptical of federal involvement with schools. 

“Where are the reasonable Republicans here in Washington who can stand up to the Tea Party?” Duncan asked. “The silence from our moderate friends troubles me more than the noise from the [far right].”

Florida is the latest state to pull out of its Common Core testing group. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana and Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin are now also mulling separating their states from the Core.

Jindal said last Monday he is concerned Louisiana public schools would be saddled with a “federalized curriculum.” He has asked his state Superintendent of Education and state Boards of Education to respond to questions raised by a state lawmaker who wants Louisiana to drop the Common Core standards.

“We support rigor and high academic standards that help ensure Louisiana students are getting the best possible education,” Jindal said. “What we do not support is a national or federalized curriculum. We need Louisiana standards, not Washington, D.C. standards.”

Also signaling a reluctance to move ahead with Common Core is Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Last Tuesday Walker said Wisconsin should have more rigorous academic standards than Common Core, which his state was one of the first states to adopt in 2010.

“I’d like to have Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established and what’s been talked about at the national level,” Walker said.

However, Walker’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers supports Common Core. His spokesman, Patrick Gasper, said:

The Common Core State Standards are rigorous, internationally benchmarked education standards that identify what students need to know to be well prepared for career or college. They are the foundation of all work done over the past five years to improve education in Wisconsin, and local school districts have already spent the past three years working to implement them.

Wisconsin’s 2013-2015 state budget requires a review of Common Core implementation, including several public hearings.


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