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.”
Overcoming that will require communicating to parents that competition is now global, not local, he said.
This was a wrong (as in incorrect) and stupid (as in politically dense) thing to say. As Sabrina Joy Stevens explains here, the low-poverty, suburban demographic does fairly well on international comparisons. Suburban moms were a key constituency for Obama in 2012 and telling them that some Common Core aligned test being promoted by the feds knows their child better than they do is a huge political mistake (this is why people hate Democrats). Finally, it's unfair to boil down public school parents' objections to the Common Core to, "you think your kids are brilliant, but they're not." Duncan reinforced the hubris so endemic in so many modern school reformers: if you are critical of our policies, you're deluded or lying to your kids and yourselves, you're a status quo defender or you don't like children or you think poor children can't learn.
Certainly, more affluent school districts coast on their reputations and are probably not doing as good a job as they should be, but I would hardly chalk this up to delusional suburban moms. I would chalk it up to the same things everyone else is suffering from: a broken accountability structure, too much emphasis on (too many and poorly designed) standardized tests and not enough rich and meaningful curriculum, plus the same budget cuts everyone else is experiencing. In short, more affluent school districts are suffering from what less affluent ones are: modern education reform.
Unlike Secretary Duncan, I don't agree that the Common Core and its accompanying tests will cure public education's ills. To the contrary, it will be more of the same. I've said over and over again that the substance of the Common Core standards are not worth debating when the way they were made and and the rigid accountability structure they will be filtered through are so problematic and will result in more of the same.
Another important piece in this is what Sherman Dorn brings up here: That maybe more people in whose favor the current system works, including suburban white families, would support more shifts, say in curriculum or assessment, if they didn't have to sacrifice their children's success to them. This goes back to the idea that slow and steady (with plenty of time for reflection and tweaking and input from all stakeholders) wins the race.
Current hullabaloo aside, it's taken an awfully long while for ed reform fatigue to trickle up to the more affluent. It's upsetting to consider that only now that they have been offended, that suburban white moms might pay attention to what's going on with school reform. I won't repeat what Jose Vilson has written already about this or what Paul Thomas said but I can vouch for it given my current access to white suburbanites. I've heard plenty of parents of students in low-poverty schools say things like, Isn't Michelle Rhee wonderful? I like what she's doing. Um, would you want someone steamrolling through your school district talking about "collaboration and consensus-building are overrated? Oh, that doesn't work for you? I didn't think so. I've also heard, TFA. What a fabulous organization. Um, do you want TFAers teaching in your district? Because I've noticed that when one of your child's teachers goes on maternity leave you demand an actual licensed and vetted teacher just to sub in their long-term absence. Another example: when I tried to alert other Virginians to the dangers of the Opportunity Education Institution in Virginia, I heard so things like, Well, in Petersburg, they need that help or Well, that's because Richmond is a mess. Richmond and Petersburg are majority black cities with high levels of poverty, so yes, such comments are code for those poor black people just can't get it together.
My response is usually some or all of: a) There are historical conditions and policies that have contributed to the poverty of those communities; it's not endemic; b) No, democracy and local control is not just for the affluent; and c) It's a slippery slope, or as Jose Vilson said, "First, they came for the Urban Black and Latina moms." With the SOL tests getting more
Some reactions to Duncan's comments haven't been much different. Now that kids who don't usually fail standardized tests are failing, then it matters--it's okay for kids that are supposed to fail but not my kids. While he definitely misspoke, I wince at the Now, I'm mad. Now you've pissed off the wrong people comments. Why were you not mad before? "The wrong people"? What's that supposed to mean? That just reinforces the idea that non-suburban white moms don't care as much about their kids' education and reinforces Duncan's implication that non-suburban-white moms support his policies.
The reformers have decided that they speak for poor people of color, that they should be happy that they're there to fix their dysfunctional systems, that the answer to dysfunction is disempowerment. White suburban folks have seemed largely to accept that. Remember that Michelle Rhee's supporters (and Arne Duncan is certainly among them--he all but endorsed her and Fenty in DC's mayoral election) have claimed that one reason Adrian Fenty lost in DC is because Rhee is Korean-American and that black people in DC were too full of race pride and too busy shielding their incompetence to admit that she was right. And who's been buying copies of the Bee Eater and Radical? My guess is: yes, suburban white people.