Ed. Secretary Challenges ‘Misguided, Misinformed’ Attacks on Common Core

By Catherine Gewertz — June 25, 2013 2 min read
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You might have heard just a teensy bit about the common core becoming kind of controversial. You might have heard, also, that one big swath of that controversy revolves around the role the federal government had in the standards. Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took on that controversy in a speech to news editors, saying it’s “misguided and misinformed” to claim that the feds created or mandated the standards.

In a speech prepared for delivery to the American Society of News Editors’ annual meeting, here in D.C., Duncan tries to dispel the notion, consistently advanced by critics of the Common Core State Standards, that the federal government essentially required states to adopt the standards. They did this by making standards adoption an important part of getting an edge in the competition for Race to the Top money (and, later, waivers from No Child Left Behind).

I won’t drag you through the whole speech here, but it’s worth reading, if for no other reason than to see the comparison Duncan makes between the common core and the Bay of Pigs invasion.

My colleague Andrew Ujifusa, who monitors common-core dustups in the states, links to Duncan’s prepared speech in writing about it today on the StateEdWatch blog. Our Michele McNeil, who covers the Ed. Department, weighs in with her take on the speech, too, on the Politics K12 blog.

One intriguing tidbit in Duncan’s remarks concerns the common-core timeline. The speech, as prepared for delivery, says that when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the common standards were already “in development and gaining momentum.”

As EdWeek reported, governors and state education chiefs convened to endorse the concept of shared standards in April of 2009, and the panels of writers were announced in July of 2009. So unless writers were quietly at work on the drafts much earlier than has been reported, it wouldn’t seem that the standards were actually “in development” when the new administration took office in January of 2009.

Much of the speech is a rehash of the main arguments for the common core (the same, higher expectations for all students; the prospects for cross-state collaboration by educators; international competitiveness). But Duncan takes a very pointed tone when he gets into making distinctions about what the federal government did—and didn’t—do in advancing the common standards.

“We didn’t write them, we don’t mandate them, and we don’t regulate them,” Duncan said, in a copy of the speech as prepared for delivery.

He gets even more granular, challenging the editors to ask critics to “identify a single lesson plan that the federal government created, or requires of any school, teacher, or district ... identify any textbook that the federal government created, endorsed, or required for any school, teacher, or district in their state ... identify any element, phrase, or a single word of the common-core standards that was developed or required by the federal government. If they tell you that any of these things are happening, challenge them to name names. Challenge them to produce evidence, because they won’t find it. It doesn’t exist,” the speech says.

Take a look at the speech and weigh in here with your reactions.

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