Arne Duncan: We Will Not Prescribe a National Curriculum

By Catherine Gewertz — May 24, 2011 2 min read
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We’ve been telling you a good deal lately about the arguments over the role of the federal government in promoting common standards and in funding the development of curriculum and assessments for those standards. (If you’ve been napping, see here for a refresher.)

Until now, we’ve had only occasional words on this from federal officials (see U.S. Ed Department spokesman Peter Cunningham’s comments last week). Most of the volleying on the federalism issue has come from advocates and policy wonks. Today, however, we’ve got weigh-ins from Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and from Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Kline’s comments came during an appearance today on Bill Bennett’s radio show, as my colleague Alyson Klein reports over at Politics K-12. During the 13-minute interview, the Minnesota Republican said he thought the federal government was using its Race to the Top program to “push” a “national curriculum.” (RTT, you remember, gave states points for adopting the common standards and is also providing funding for state consortia to develop tests and curriculum materials for those standards.)

“My concern is if you look at what the administration is doing with Race to the Top and so forth, on the one hand they will say they want this bottom up, and yet it’s all stick and carrot with Race to the Top,” Kline said.

“You do what the secretary thinks is a good thing to do and you get rewarded, and if you don’t, you get punished. ... That’s the line we’re talking about, where you get the federal government starting to push a national curriculum, or insisting on one, and as you know, that’s been against the law, and I think correctly so. We don’t want the secretary of education to decide what the curriculum is in every school in America...”

Duncan weighed in on the topic this morning as well. At a forum hosted by the National Center on Education and the Economy, Duncan was discussing lessons that can be learned from higher-performing countries, and he mentioned national standards and curriculum. But he said: “We have not and will not prescribe a national curriculum. I want to repeat that.” This remark prompted laughter from the audience, my colleague Stephen Sawchuk, who attended the forum, reports. Duncan also said it would be against the law to prescribe national curriculum. (A webcast of the symposium is here.)

How, might you ask, could this debate affect the holding-together of the common-core movement? Good question. Worth watching.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.