Arne Duncan: 'I Regret' Insult to Common Core Critics

Arne Duncan: 'I Regret' Insult to Common Core Critics

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has walked back a casual dismissal of Common Core school curricula critics after his comments generated a heated response.

Last week, Duncan explained away criticism of his proposed Common Core program to school superintendents as “white suburban moms” complaining that their children were not as “brilliant as they thought they were,” in an attempt to generate more support for the program.

Duncan, who was speaking at a talk in Virginia, attempted to generate enthusiasm for the program and dispel criticism that it was age inappropriate in a way that made it too difficult to be useful to children. Duncan did not deny that in states where the Common Core have seen grades plummet–a uniform set of standardized teaching tools and test meant to federalize the education system and, supporters allege, create a more level playing field for children in underperforming public schools. 

Needless to say, the comment resulted in significant backlash from both white suburban moms and others who found little blame in parents for the federal program’s troubles (after all, it would not be the first). 

“The preposterousness of Duncan’s tirade is outweighed only by its arrogance and falsehood,” wrote self-described “brown-skinned suburban mom” Michelle Malkin against the “bigot” Duncan for his race-evoking words. A swell of voices from the American right–the wing of American politics most concerned with the threat of creating an “entitlement society”–have challenged the idea that it is mothers who want to reward less-than-brilliant children for their mediocre output that is the problem here. 

Duncan himself, obviously in more measured words, appeared to agree Monday in an apologetic blog post in which he called the comments a distraction. “I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret,” he writes, though insisting that he was attempting to challenge the idea that the federal government is “only talking about poor minority students in inner cities.”

That Duncan addresses the universality of the Common Core in his apology for distracting language precisely targets the problem with the Common Core, and it has nothing to do with distracting language. So far, 45 states have approved the program, and according to the Washington Post, a large state like New York saw a 30% drop in test scores. Duncan’s take last Friday, accusing opposition of being disgruntled “white suburban moms,” puts the blame on the children for the score drops, not on the tests for resulting in grades ill-representative of the children’s knowledge base.

While convenient for wholesale education purposes, standardized testing has met many challenges in innumerable fields–from elementary education to the doctorate level–because it often inadequately addresses the individuality of the student’s intelligence type. Standardized teaching, too, threatens to impose upon the larger population one way to learn, one standard by which to measure their excellence that could result in any number of otherwise talented and hard-working students left behind. 

Perhaps Duncan’s comment cut so deep with the mothers he attacked because it is they that watch their children toil over homework every night, that listen to them speak and engage with others the most, and that have the closest understanding of that child’s capacity. For someone in that position, watching their child fail a system intended to work suitably for children across the country, universally, independent of a host of factors that distinguish them, is a frustrating position to find oneself.

To carry the knowledge that it is the federal government imposing these standards–that the most cumbersome bureaucracy known to man is in charge of telling their children they aren’t smart enough, based on their newly-minted bureaucratic system–is something no mom–white, suburban, or otherwise–should have to bear.

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