WSJ’s Jason Riley: ‘Soccer Mom’ Opponents to Common Core Have the Momentum

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

With hundreds of thousands of parents refusing the Common Core-aligned tests for their children, Wall Street Journal contributor Jason Riley says the “soccer mom” opt-out movement has the momentum and is determined to win its fight.

In an opinion piece on Tuesday, Riley described how middle class suburban mothers, maligned by the U.S. Education Department (USED) Secretary Arne Duncan for their opposition to Common Core, have shown no fear of the criticism and threats of the Obama administration for refusing to buy into the controversial and unproven education initiative and its associated tests.

In 2013, Duncan made the mistake of mocking the mostly moms who have organized against the Common Core standards in their respective states.

“It’s fascinating to me,” the secretary said, “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.”

Two years later, the insulting remarks are still coming at middle class parents who refuse to give up control of their children’s education. But the criticism is also coming from establishment Republicans, often on board with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s solid support for the standards as a means to ensure low-level academic expectations sufficient to maintain a steady labor supply within the country.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), for example, considered to be seriously considering a run for president in 2016, has done his own share of mocking the “soccer moms” by referring to their opposition to Common Core as nothing more than “a runaway internet campaign,” and “hysteria.”

The condescending remarks, however, whether from the Obama administration or presidential wannabes, has not led to any fainting in fear on the part of these parents.

With the opt-out numbers soaring, the Obama administration has recently attempted to kick it up a notch with a threatening approach that perhaps serves to send the message to state education agencies and local school boards that they had better get their parents in line.

A statement sent to Breitbart News from USED and attributed to press secretary Dorie Nolt read:

It is the responsibility of states to ensure that all students are assessed annually because it gives educators and parents an idea of how the student is doing and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations like low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners. The Department has not had to withhold money – yet – over this requirement because states have either complied or have appropriately sanctioned schools or districts that assessed less than 95 percent of students.

As Riley observes, during a recent conference, Duncan said that if parents continue to refuse the test for their children, “then we have an obligation to step in.” A department spokesman later clarified that the Obama administration will consider whether to withhold federal funds for school districts with less than 95 percent participation rates in the state assessments.

State education departments, consequently, have been anxiously watching their districts’s student test participation rates. In addition to the opt-out movement, education officials in some states, like Montana, are also dealing with multiple technological glitches with the online Common Core-aligned tests. Some have asked for the specifics if federal assessment requirements are not met.

In a letter to Alaska Commissioner of Education Mike Hanley, who inquired about potential consequences if a State or school district fails to adhere to the federal assessment requirements, Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary of Education at USED wrote in February:

The specific enforcement action(s) ED would take depends on the severity of non-compliance. For example, if an SEA [State Education Agency] has developed a statewide assessment system but that system is not approvable because it fails to meet all statutory and regulatory requirements, ED might condition the SEA’s Title I, Part A grant award, place the SEA on high-risk status, enter into a compliance agreement, or withhold State administrative funds. ED has, in fact, withheld Title I, Part A administrative funds under ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind]… from a number of States for failure to comply with the assessment requirements… If an SEA or LEA [local education agency] refuses to implement an assessment system that meets the statutory and regulatory requirements, ED might seek to withhold programmatic funds from the State and expect the SEA to withhold from the LEA. Clearly, if an SEA or LEA fails to comply with the assessment requirements in either the ESEA or ESEA flexibility, it could place its Title I, Part A funds in jeopardy. In addition, the SEA or LEA could find itself out of compliance with a wide range of additional Federal programs that rely on statewide assessment results, putting additional funds at risk. These additional programs include those targeting students most at risk including, but not limited to: the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program; ESEA Title III; Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); programs for rural schools under ESEA Title VI; migrant education under ESEA Title I, Part C; and programs focused on professional development and other supports for teachers, such as ESEA Title II.

Please note that an LEA may not avoid administering the State assessments required under ESEA… by declining to accept Title I, Part A funds. As noted above, the assessment requirements are State-level requirements that apply to any SEA that accepts Title I, Part A funds. That SEA must then administer its assessments statewide — including to students in LEAs that do not participate in Title I.

Parents opposed to the Common Core are undaunted, however, and Riley aptly points out that their determination will not go on summer vacation when school is out.

“The presidential candidates will have to declare themselves,” he writes, observing that “Labor will pressure Hillary Clinton to at least hedge any support for testing, and it is increasingly difficult to imagine a Republican nominee who hasn’t distanced himself from Common Core.”

Riley noted that Professor Jay Greene, education reform expert from University of Arkansas, told him the Obama administration has met its match in the “soccer moms.”

“You can’t beat organized upper-middle class people,” Greene said. “They will fight back and you will lose.”


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