It’s not every day that Democrats and Republicans get to shake their fist in the same direction. That honor goes to Education Secretary Arne Duncan whose insult against “white, suburban moms” whose “child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” has sparked outrage from the tea party to teachers unions-not to mention the PTA moms who are heavily invested in their children’s schooling. Sec. Duncan is still walking back his remarks, but if a similar story in Texas is any guide, he’s not done with this fight by a long shot.
Speaking to a group of superintendents, Duncan stepped in it, got down and rolled around in it when he said mothers just couldn’t accept how dumb their kids were.
“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who - all of a sudden - their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”
Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and so far, the rollout has been such a disaster that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a Common Core supporter, said, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”
But President Barack Obama took responsibility for the failures of healthcare.gov and his broken promise that people could keep their insurance plans. Not so with Sec. Duncan, who thought telling mothers that he knew their children better than they was good politics.
This is not the first time a defender of the testing status quo has tried to beat back opposition by blaming hysterical mothers. The top business lobbyist in Texas tried that last year, and it didn’t work out so well for him.
Texas, the birthplace of high-stakes testing, rejected Common Core in favor of its own $468-million experiment in making everyone smarter with standardized tests. This sparked opposition similar to what Common Core is now facing, prompting Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, to accuse school administrators of “scaring mom. They’ve told mom that Johnny is not going to UT [University of Texas] because of the end-of-course exam.”
Dineen Majcher was one of those moms who had organized Texas Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, an unwieldy name most rejected for either the acronym TAMSA or the more popular “Moms Against Drunk Testing.” Majcher sees parallels between Hammond’s attempt to marginalize parents and Duncan’s unwise choice of words.
“Parents are tired of policymakers making accusations and excuses for the harmful and ineffective policies of over-testing. Before policymakers send more taxpayers’ dollars to testing companies, we need to come to grips with many issues, such as the purpose and underlying motives for more standardized tests. Â As parents, we know that ‘blame and shame’ does not work. Â Our policymakers’ insistence to use that approach with over-testing in public schools is irresponsible,” said Majcher.
TAMSA did not back down and convinced the legislature and Gov. Rick Perry to partially roll back the testing requirements.
As in Texas, Sec. Duncan’s attempt to blame mothers has caused a backlash. Sec. Duncan’s half-hearted apology for his “controversial-sounding soundbites” and “clumsy phrasing” has done nothing to quell the full-throated opposition. Critics have started a petition on WhiteHouse.gov to remove Duncan as Secretary of Education, and a Facebook group called Moms Against Duncan (MAD) had more than 3,500 members.
The apology is beside the point. Parents of public school students-myself included-are mad that our education system is still based on standardized tests that are developmentally inappropriate, unable to measure classroom learning, and over-emphasized to the point of corrupting the curriculum. Moms (and dads, for that matter) will not be happy until we put developing children and not raising test scores at the center of our education policy. We’re just waiting for Sec. Duncan to realize that he isn’t as brilliant as he thinks he is.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.