Forgive me, but isn't it past time for Arne Duncan to just shut up about Common Core?
Every word of praise, every "atta boy," every utterance meant to reassure CCSS supporters, only serves to remind CCSS opponents that this is an Obama administration goal - one that was crammed into the Race to the Top competition along side charter schools - and even worse - requirements related to high-stakes testing and suspect teacher evaluation schemes. That narrative only galvanizes the growing belief that CCSS is a federal effort rather than a national effort developed by the states.
Hush now, Arne.
This from Curriculum Matters:
Arne Duncan: Feds Won't Prescribe Even 'A Single Semicolon' of Curricula
But the speech made some of the core's staunchest advocates cringe.
The issue of federal overreach with the standards has gotten so radioactive that Duncan can't say a word about it without churning hundreds of stomachs in the pro-common-core camp. Even a blessing from the U.S. Secretary of Education—like 'Hey, guys, you're doing a great job out there!'—has people running for cover.
Take a look at the speech, which Duncan gave last week at a gathering of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). It's a shout-out to those doing in-the-trenches work of putting the Common Core State Standards into practice. It goes out of its way to praise the local, independent work of writing curriculum for the new standards. And it even makes sure to heap praise on the work going on in a state that didn't adopt the standards: Virginia.
"[S]ince you are curriculum experts, I don't have to tell you that the federal government has long been barred by law from mandating school curriculum and from selecting instructional materials for any school system," Duncan said, according to a transcript of the speech. "Curriculum, instructional materials, and instructional practices... are your business, not ours. And I want to recognize how essential your work is at this pivotal moment.
"Now, these new college- and career-ready standards have the potential to be transformative for students, inspiring them, helping them to reach their full potential—but only if state and local leaders, principals, and educators implement them well," Duncan said. "[T]he federal government is not going to assign any textbook or reading in schools. It's not going to draft, create, or require a lesson plan in any school. It's not going to tell teachers or local officials what to study—or what sequence to study in it.
"In fact, not a word, not a single semicolon of curriculum will be created, encouraged, or prescribed by the federal government. We haven't done so—and we won't be doing so, and that is how it should be."
Even with this kind of language, though, some common-core advocates were privately gritting their teeth. A few
complained to colleagues that they wished Duncan hadn't mentioned their organizations by name. Others groused that any expression of support for the common core only fuels the perception in conservative circles that it's a federal initiative.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Checker Finn told me a couple of years ago that Duncan risked loving the standards to death if he kept using the bully pulpit to encourage their embrace by educators. The grimaces that went round after the secretary's recent speech suggest that this has only gotten truer as the months have passed.
What Duncan said about Kentucky:
In Kentucky, the integration of higher standards into the classroom has been taken on both by the state and by a strong non-profit sector.
The Kentucky Department of Education built a rich online technology platform that offers lessons, tests, and curriculum materials, and allows teachers to post their own materials and share and rate resources. It also includes podcasts by higher education faculty, to help introduce teachers to new instructional strategies for the new college and career-ready standards.
Already, two-thirds of Kentucky's teachers have used the new online platform to create lesson plans, and two-thirds of teachers in the state have used it to create assessment items.
Kentucky Educational Television also had a great idea of creating online modules for parents and teachers to explain the new standards. We all know that teachers and parents should be talking about the new standards together. We have to strengthen the partnership between school and home.
And AdvanceKentucky and Project Lead the Way, two non-profits that promote STEM education, have helped develop new science and math courses.