Is the Obama Admin Backing Off Support for Common Core?

In testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared to suggest the administration may be backing off its support for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In a statement to The Christian Post, however, an Education Department spokesperson reiterated Duncan's support for the Common Core.

"I'm just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they're common or not is secondary," Duncan testified Tuesday before a House appropriations subcommittee overseeing his department's budget request for next year, reported Michele McNeil, assistant editor and reporter for Education Week.

McNeil claimed the remarks meant that Duncan "continued to distance himself from the Common Core State Standards." The Daily Caller similarly reported on the remarks with the title, "Arne Duncan slowly backing away from Common Core."

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When asked about that by The Christian Post, an Education Department spokesperson replied via email that Duncan "routinely talks about the value of college-and-career-ready standards and the added benefit when standards are consistent among states."

The spokesperson also referenced two speeches by Duncan, one on Sept. 30, 2013, and another on Jan. 27, 2014, in which Duncan declared his support for the Common Core.

In the Jan. 27 speech, delivered to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's Leadership Institute Conference, Duncan said the country "finally reached a long-sought turning point," and now has "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to both dramatically enrich and accelerate learning and improve instructional practice."

"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," he added.

At last week's congressional hearing, Duncan also claimed there were "zero" federal grants for states that are tied to Common Core. As McNeil pointed out, that is not precisely true. There are no grants directly tied to Common Core, but states that adopted the Common Core were given an advantage in the Race to the Top federal grant competition. Many of the 45 states that initially adopted the Common Core did so because they were competing for that grant money.

Besides the Obama administration, support for Common Core has come from many state governors, including Republicans, corporations, such as ExxonMobil, and business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable.

Opponents to the Common Core also cross partisan and ideological lines. They include education professors, teachers unions, Tea Party groups and grassroots activists.

Two days after Duncan delivered his testimony to Congress he attended an event with the New York state education commissioner, John B. King Jr., and praised King's efforts at implementing Common Core in that state.

Long Island Newsday described the event this way: "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued ringing defenses Thursday of New York's implementation of the Common Core academic standards and the state's education commissioner, urging perseverance despite 'drama and noise' about high-stakes standardized tests."

According to a New York Times report of the same event, Duncan complained about the "drama and noise" over Common Core implementation and said that New York has the opportunity to "help lead the country where we need to go."

New York has been one of the states where Common Core is facing stiff opposition, and King has been at the center of that controversy in the state. In January, the board of directors for New York State United Teachers, a union with 600,000 members, approved a resolution calling for King to resign and withdrawing support for Common Core.

Given his staunch support for Common Core in the past, and the fact that Common Core was implemented by the states as part of Duncan's Race to the Top program, some experts were quickly skeptical that Duncan could be backing off his support.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and Common Core opponent, suggested on her blog four possible reasons that Duncan said he was for high standards but they do not have to be Common Core standards:

"1. The Common Core standards have become so controversial that Duncan wants to pretend he had nothing to do with them.

2. Duncan has been warned by his advisors that his support and Obama's is actually dragging down the poll numbers for the Common Core so the best way to help them is to back off.

3. Someone is planning to sue the U.S. Department of Education for illegally interfering in curriculum and instruction by supporting the Common Core, so Duncan must pretend he had nothing to do with their swift adoption by 45 states. His lure of $4.3 billion was just a coincidence.

4. Duncan realized that his cheerleading contradicted his insistence that the Common Core was 'state-led.'"

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