EDITORIAL: Education secretary a common boor

Arne Duncan is the Obama administration’s secretary of education, the highest position in the nation as it relates to schools. Yet it’s quite apparent he has plenty to learn, having been rightly schooled over an astounding comment he made about those who are questioning the new Common Core State Standards rolling into K-12 schools across the nation.

“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,” Mr. Duncan said in Richmond, Va., on Nov. 15, while addressing state school superintendents.

You know what’s really pretty scary, Mr. Secretary? Anyone who makes a blanket statement about a particular race or gender. It’s not acceptable to attack any demographic. Such a comment from a Cabinet member attacking black men or Latino women would be deemed despicable, and that Cabinet member would almost certainly be fired or forced to resign. It’s no less despicable in this case.

Furthermore, while there’s little doubt this is how Mr. Duncan truly feels, given his weak apologies — he attributes the gaffe to “clumsy phrasing” — there is equally little doubt that he is quite wrong. As Reason.com’s David Harsanyi wrote Friday, “What is fascinating, though, is hearing Duncan contending that certain suburbanite ‘white’ parents have little interest in any genuine assessment of kids and their schools. Evidence seems to suggest the opposite, actually. White suburban moms (shorthand, of course, for moms who live in middle-class communities that feature all kinds of races) seem to have a propensity to spend a lot of time, energy and money creating better schools.”

Exactly. Everyone recognizes that there is a huge correlation between parental involvement and student achievement. Educators across the country, whether teachers or administrators or, yes, even the top education official in President Barack Obama’s administration, constantly remind everyone that if children are to succeed in school, parental involvement is paramount.

But Mr. Duncan’s comments and those of many of his colleagues show that the call for parental involvement is disingenuous. They want parents to help Johnny or Suzy do their homework and back up teachers when Junior isn’t studying. But they don’t want to be told how to do their job or be questioned about standards that have drawn a great deal of warranted scrutiny nationwide — not just from white suburban moms, but parents of all races and economic backgrounds. Even teachers and administrators have expressed concerns with components of Common Core, for a wide variety of legitimate reasons.

Secretary Duncan is ostensibly saying, “We’re the experts here. We’re the professionals. Please stay out of our way.”

It’s time for the secretary and others who criticize Common Core opponents to do a little less talking and a lot more listening. That shouldn’t be hard for Secretary Duncan, whose foot is firmly planted in his mouth.