Obama Education Chief on Do-Over: ‘I Would Push Even Harder’ for Common Core

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (L) listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting with the Council of the Great City Schools Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about the education …

Former Obama-era education secretary Arne Duncan writes in his new memoir that – if he had the chance to serve in his post over again – he would “push even harder” for the Common Core standards that were widely adopted by the states, yet grew to become highly unpopular among parents and failed to achieve improvement in academic outcomes.

According to Education Week’s report on Duncan’s book – How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest Serving Secretaries of Education– the former secretary isn’t sorry the Obama administration pushed for big changes all at once. Incremental modifications, he writes, would not have yielded success, as he defines it:

Each difficult change inevitably would have been punted further down the road, and in the end, nothing would improve. Students would still be short-changed, the country would continue to fall behind its international peers, and there would still be plenty of pushback. For me then, it was all or nothing. (Actually, if I had it to do all over again, I would push even harder than we did; there’s never a “right” time for fundamental change.)

Regarding Race to the Top, the competitive grant program inserted into Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill that incentivized states to adopt Common Core, Duncan says the program “changed the education landscape in America … Since Race to the Top, 46 states and the Washington, D.C., [school system] … have either adopted common core or developed their own high standards.”

Duncan asserts his failing was not in pushing Common Core on the country, but in his poor communication about Race to the Top and the nationalized standards.

“In the midst of such rapid change we proved terrible at explaining the Race’s goals and methods to teachers, and even worse at explaining them to parents,” he writes. “We could have done a much better job, and spent a little money, helping states explain and publicize what they were attempting and what the goals were.”

Joy Pullman, executive editor at The Federalist, interprets what Duncan is saying:

This is the lesson the Left is learning from their failures, folks: Citizens are going to protest anyway, so compromise less. This level of arrogance is frightening.

In the book, say reports, Duncan mostly chalks mass grassroots resistance to the Obama administration’s education policies to “poor communication.” It wasn’t anything wrong with the administration’s agenda, no, just that people simply couldn’t understand it. Of course, the humble and most direct thing to consider would be that Americans understood perfectly, and that’s why they objected. Still, Duncan’s arrogance keeps him mystified about why even Obama allies like teachers unions, albeit late in the game, started opposing Common Core and especially its enforcement, tests.

In fact, while the Obama administration was lambasted by the right for pushing the federal government further into education policy with Race to the Top and Common Core, the left – specifically, teachers unions – criticized the administration’s demand that teachers be evaluated, in part, by the performance of students on tests aligned with the Common Core.

The 74 summarizes:

In July 2014, the National Education Association, the largest U.S. teachers union, called for Duncan’s resignation. In a statement soon after, the American Federation of Teachers claimed Duncan “has failed to bring parents, students, teachers and community members together to improve the quality of public education for all children, and he has promoted misguided and ineffective policies on …. test obsession.”

Parents as well showed their contempt for Common Core and its aligned tests with opt-out campaigns throughout the country.

Duncan reportedly indicates in his book he was disappointed by the reaction of the teachers unions whom he describes as “staunchly Democratic,” but, then again, blames the outcome on poor communication.

“These folks, many of whom supported Barack Obama, should have been our natural allies,” he writes. “But because we were miserable at communicating how and why things were happening, and why they were important, it made things worse. … I’m sorry.”

Though he led the federal education system for seven years, Duncan says in his book the system “runs on lies.”

Asked by CBS’s Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan if he “made a dent in any of that” when he was education secretary, Duncan replied, “We had some, you know, real successes. We had some failures … We’re not top 10 in anything.”

Obama said about his longtime friend upon Duncan’s resignation that “America will be better off for what he has done.”


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