The Public Policy

Common Core-Uption

The plagues of Common Core. 

By 11.21.13

Arne Duncan finds it “fascinating” that opposition to new Common Core education standards throughout the U.S. is coming 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.”

The U.S. Secretary of Education later said he used a poor choice of words when he spoke to a group of state superintendents last Friday. Yes, definitely. All those women fed a steady diet of the Republicans’ war on their civil rights during last year’s election that then went out and elected his boss just found out what Barack Obama’s administration really thinks of them: selfish segregationists who only care about their own children.

What Duncan cares about, by contrast, is prepping everyone for 21st century jobs, whatever those will be. He does not want any child to be forced to follow a substandard – to borrow the progressive catchphrase for health policies that existed before Obamacare – curriculum that allows a community to “feel better” about itself without academic merit.

To start, the government will never be able to predict what the jobs of the future will be, so how can it develop a set of standards to prepare students for them? Second, the problem with the Common Core is that the superiority of its standards as compared to those in current curriculum is a hotly debated topic – not an established fact as Mr. Duncan makes it seem. The guidelines, which were never voted on by Congress or state or local governments, were foisted on states because the federal government dangled $4.35 billion at states in so-called “Race to the Top” grants. Perhaps most questionable, the same failed philosophy that has turned teachers into test prep delivery devices and students into information drones drives Common Core just as it does evaluation methods today.

In a video that went viral, Ethan Young, a student at Farragut High School in Knox County, Tennessee, eviscerated the one-size-fits-all method of teaching at a school board meeting earlier this month.

That model, he said, “works with nuclear reactors, it works with business models, why can’t it work with students? I mean how convenient, calculating exactly who knows what and who needs what. I mean, why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they’re told.”

What’s particularly ironic about Duncan’s statement is that earlier this week a report in The Baltimore Sun revealed that the nation’s top-ranked public school system, Maryland, achieved its high scores on a test known as the Nation’s Report Card by removing a large pool of special needs students from testing. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a surrogate for President Obama during his two stints as head of the Democratic Governors Association, bills himself as Captain Transparency and was an early advocate for Common Core, but oddly didn’t notify the public about a practice designed to help students and teachers “feel better” about their performance at the expense of holding them accountable for their learning.

So if even the state poster child for Common Core doesn’t like to be held accountable, how can you blame “white suburban moms”?

The fact that high stakes testing will continue to drive funding for public education under Common Core means more cooking the books as in Maryland, cheating scandals and a draining of joy from classrooms around the country.

Instead of slamming people who have legitimate concerns about Common Core, Mr. Duncan should take a step back and think about the purpose of an education.

Tennessee student Ethan Young said it well: “Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves — pleading, screaming and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip, the careers will come naturally.”

Take that, 21st century jobs.

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About the Author
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives.  Write her at Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.