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August 21, 2014

Arne Duncan Was Right About U.S. Schools | Kondracke

OK. So Education Secretary Arne Duncan could have said it better, but fundamentally he was right: Parents are getting awakened to how inferior even “good” American schools are, and they don’t like it.

Speaking  to state school superintendents in Richmond last week, Duncan said that some opposition to adoption of the Common Core education standards is coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — [find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were …”

His comments lit a firestorm of criticism on Twitter and the blogosphere, with critics accusing him of sexism and racism, and he had to publicly admit “clumsy phrasing.”

If he was clumsy, it was in knocking the kids. On the rest of what he said, he was dead right.

White suburban moms are among those opposing the Common Core standards because all of a sudden their kids’ test scores are dropping and they’re finding, as he said, that “their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

The Common Core standards — conceived and adopted by state governors and only then backed by the federal government — are designed to make sure American kids are being taught (and tested) to international standards. They are bound to show how behind U.S. schools are.

For some years, kids are going to look not as brilliant as their parents thought they were, but — over time — parents and politicians should demand that the schools get them up to international par.

A June report from the Brookings Institution makes the point — for what has to be the thousandth time — that the failure of U.S. schools is, as the title says, “Endangering Prosperity.”

It’s fashionable, the report notes, to blame poverty and low minority achievement for America’s poor performance on international test scores putting U.S. students, for instance, 32nd among 68 countries in eighth-grade math proficiency.

“Even when we look at the best [schools] the United States has to offer, we seldom find performances that lift the United States to the top of the world,” the authors say.

Another report this year by the reform group America Achieves shows that even upper-middle-income students rank 32nd in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading.

Parents whose kids’ scores fall when tested to higher standards shouldn’t blame the standards but demand more of their schools and those who run them.

And so should the politicians — tea party Republicans especially — quit attacking the Common Core standards as an Obama administration conspiracy and demand better performance.

“The failure to develop adequate skills, what economists call human capital, has truly profound implications for U.S. productivity growth in the next half century,” the Brookings report says.

If  the U.S. could simply match Canada — ranked 10th in math proficiency vs. 32nd for the U.S. — the average annual income of U.S. workers would be 20 percent higher and U.S. growth would be enough to pay off the national debt, Brookings calculates.

So Arne Duncan had it right: If suburban moms (and the rest of us) really care about their kids’ prospects in a competitive world, they’ll demand their schools meet world standards.

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