June 26, 2013 1:19PM

Ed Sec to Media: Get Those Common Core Critics!

In a bid to prove that Washington never tried to strong-arm states into adopting the Common Core, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the American Society of News Editors that the media had better start attacking “fringe,” “misinformed,” Core opponents and their arguments.

Think about that for a moment.

Yup, seems like a self-defeating tactic to me, too. But it's not the first time the secretary has launched into attack mode to show that Washington would never – ever! – get pushy on education.

Now, despite my fatigue with constantly debunking Core supporters on federal coercion, I was prepared to do a huge dismantling of Duncan's speech. Thankfully, both for the public and my workload, one of those media types whom Duncan implied hasn’t been doing her job – Michele McNeil of Education Week – was, indeed, inspired to do some fact-checking by Duncan. Too bad for the secretary, it was on his claims. Among McNeil's offerings:

  • "On a grading scale of 500 points, Duncan said adopting common standards and assessments was worth relatively little. ‘Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Undoubtedly. But it's not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core,’ he said. In fact, adopting and implementing common standards and assessments was worth 50 points, or 10 percent. That's the same amount of points allotted to a state's plan for turning around low-performing schools. In a contest in which only a few points separated winners from losers, those points mattered—a lot. And it likely spurred states to actually adopt the standards; the first state adopted them in February 2010."

One thing I would add to McNeil's corrections (though many more could be included) is this:

  • Duncan said, “this notion of our pushing for one set of standards was never correct. In fact, we were totally agnostic on the number of state consortia. We just didn't want 50 states to continue to work in complete isolation from each other.” This is not plausible. Race to the Top didn’t specify that states had to belong to the Common Core, but it was the only multi-state standard out there, save maybe the New England Common Assessment Program, used by three states. But NECAP was technically only a system of common assessments, not standards. More important, Race to the Top regulations (see page 59733) said that “a State will earn ‘high’ points if its consortium includes a majority of the States in the country, and ‘medium’ or ‘low’ points if its consortium includes one-half of the States in the country or less.” Common Core was really the only multi-state standard out there, much less with the possibility of getting a majority of states. Duncan either knew that, or was shockingly ignorant of the education system he was supposed to be helping.

Secretary Duncan, if getting the truth about Common Core to the public is really your goal, why don't you engage in honest debate instead of giving speeches smearing Core opponents and peddling your own misinformation? On second thought, maybe you should just keep doing what you’re doing: You actually make it a lot easier to convince people that Washington is, indeed, deeply involved in pushing the Common Core.