Hey, Arne Duncan, there's really no excuse for remarks like this:
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “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 they were.”
This white suburban mom suggests that you check your mouth carefully before you shove your foot in it, or shovel that piece of racist class distinction out to school superintendents. Why is the Secretary of Education trying to divide parents by race and class? Duncan assumes no Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or urban parent is frustrated by how these standards have been introduced when he makes remarks like that.
Beyond the obvious incendiary nature of his remarks, Duncan would also like all of us to understand that no responsibility for the disastrous rollout of the Common Core standards should rest on his shoulders, because it's really those self-important soccer moms out there making all the noise.
Well, no. It's not. The policy, as a theory, doesn't sound so bad. Develop a framework of knowledge children should have when they graduate from high school in order to succeed in college and the workplace. Make that framework universal across all states and public schools as a minimum standard needed to meet for graduation. I don't know of too many rational thinkers who would disagree, at least as to the theoretical nature of the thing.
Why is it that the Common Core standards are opposed with equal ferocity by Americans for Prosperity and many on the left? Americans for Prosperity opposes them because they were drafted with an eye to inclusion and fact-based knowledge. They teach about the United Nations and diversity, and aren't hard enough on minorities and Muslims.
But on the left, they're opposed because they suggest that all children begin and have a school experience which is on equal footing with others when it's not. They're also opposed because they place a heavy emphasis on annual standardized testing, which is expensive and unnecessary. Many argue that they force teachers to teach to the test even more than they did under No Child Left Behind, while failing to acknowledge fundamental inequalities which exist to a degree not seen in decades.
Most of the standards were developed with funding from the Gates Foundation, which took a data-driven approach to curriculum standards and then reverse-engineered those into the standardized testing regimes already in place. Almost as an afterthought, Gates decided perhaps it would be a good thing to get teachers on board with appropriate curriculum and textbooks. In 2012, they devoted enormous sums to "increase capacity" and train teachers.
But that was too late for the 2012-2013 school year, where parents saw their kids' scores drop by as much as 30 percent with very little explanation for why that could be. Now Duncan is telling us all, it's just that our expectations of our little darlings are too high. At least, if we're a white suburban mom.
Paul Thomas brilliant essay highlights larger issues in play here:
In the first moments of Obama’s administration, Duncan has personified and voiced an education agenda that disproportionately impacts black, brown, and poor children in powerfully negative ways. And the entire agenda has been consistently cloaked in discourse characterizing these policies as the Civil Rights issue of the day.
As well, Duncan has perpetuated and embraced “no excuses” narratives while directly and indirectly endorsing education reform and policies that target and mis-serve high-poverty students, African American and Latina/o students, and English Language learners—charter schools, Teach for America, accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing.
Public commentary that highlights that education reform under Obama and Duncan fails the pursuit of equity in the context of race and class in the U.S. tends to fall on deaf ears. The same urgency witnessed in the responses to Duncan’s “white suburban moms” contrasts significantly from the silence surrounding challenges to Duncan’s discourse and policies that are classist and racist, policy designed for “other people’s children.
”The problem is not that educators and scholars have failed to identify that education reform under Obama and Duncan have continued and increased federal and state education policy creating two inequitable education systems—one for the white and affluent, another for minorities and the impoverished—because these important messages have been raised.
The problem is that rejecting education reform discourse and policy based on race and class concerns doesn’t resonate in the U.S.
He's right. And in this area, Obama's policy choices follow the same trajectory of ignoring race and class concerns, perhaps because Obama himself faced far less of those than children today who struggle with poverty, race barriers, and also language barriers. Barack Obama's family made sure he never attended a public school, and that carried through to his college years as well.
My challenge to President Obama would be twofold: First, lose Arne Duncan sooner rather than later. Second, pay a visit to Philly public schools or Detroit public schools, or any other urban school district struggling with underfunding and children who are distracted by a lack of basic needs like food and shelter. Forget about all the snazzy ideas like Teach for America where hedge fund managers get to feel good about "giving back" and get in these communities and really see them and what they need.
Then fight for it.
Update: AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote a great op-ed for the New York Times today related to this. Weingarten has worked very hard to work within the constraints of Common Core to assist teachers in the implementation of it, but even she draws the line at setting those standards for K-2 and testing on them.