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November 19, 2013 3:23 PM Legitimate and Illegitimate Concerns About Common Core Standards

By Ed Kilgore

So Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got himself into hot water by casually suggesting that part of the reason for resistance to the implementation of the long-awaited and gubernatorially-endorsed Common Core Standards was the surprise of “white suburban moms” that more rigorous standards might trip up a few more of their kids than earlier standards. Predictably, some conservatives are even calling him a “bigot” because, as we all know, the only actual racism in this country is racism aimed at poor victimized suburban white folks.

Duncan obviously made a mistake, but let’s be clear: while some of the current furor over Common Core Standards—after the long period of their development in which they enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support—is no doubt legitimate, a big chunk of it probably isn’t (I speak as someone who shares the Washington Monthly’s conviction that Common Core Standards could be the best thing that’s happened to American education in a long, long time). There are the Tea Folk who oppose any kind of national standards, and who in some cases oppose doing anything to support the survival of “government schools.” There are the Republican politicians who used to support the initiative but are now wavering because “the base” doesn’t like it. There are progressives who may not specifically have issues with Common Core, but who object to any additional testing-based strategy for education reform. And yes, there are parents and school administrators who think of “standards” as something for minority students and inner-city schools, and fear their own schools being labeled as anything other than fine institutions educating the leaders of tomorrow.

Let’s cut Duncan some slack, and try as hard as possible to keep the implementation of Common Core Standards—at this late date, when so much has been invested in them, and with no other bipartisan strategy even on the horizon—moving along with adjustments rather than abandonment being the options on the table.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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