U.S. Education Secretary on Common Core Opposition: ‘This is About Politics’

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sternly admonished Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin for signing a bill to repeal the controversial Common Core education standards in her state.

This March 14, 2014 file photo shows Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60 million settlement with the federal government to resolve allegations it charged military service members excessive interest rates on their student loans. The settlement was announced Tuesday by Attorney General Eric Holder and Duncan. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

Both Indiana and South Carolina have also opted out of the state standards backed by the Obama administration after initially adopting them. But Duncan’s fire was aimed at Fallin, the chairwoman of the National Governors Association, the organization that helped develop the standards.

“The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one,” Duncan said during a White House press briefing Monday. “Let me give you a couple of facts. I think sadly, this is not about education. This is about politics.”

He said that about 40 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college, while only a quarter of Oklahoma eighth graders are proficient in math.

“Other states are out educating Oklahoma,” Duncan continued. “In fact, just a couple of months ago, this is what Gov. Fallin said about higher standards. She said the standards, and I quote ‘outline what students need to be college and career ready.’ I want to be really clear, this is Gov. Fallin.”

He continued to read Fallin’s quote: “Common Core is not a federal program. It is driven and implemented by those states that choose to participate. Its also not a federal curriculum. In fact, it’s not a curriculum at all.

Local educators and school districts will still design and choose the best lesson plans and choose appropriate text books and drive learning.”

Then Duncan asked, “What changed? Politics changed.”

TheBlaze contacted Fallin’s office for comment, but a spokesperson for the governor has not responded at press time.

When she signed the repeal legislation last week, Fallin said the state would adopt our own Oklahoma academic standards that will be better than Common Core.”

“Common Core was created with that well-intentioned goal in mind,” she said. “It was intended to develop a set of high standards in classrooms across the nation that would ensure children graduated from high school prepared for college and a career in an increasingly competitive workforce. It was originally designed as a state-lead – not federal – initiative that each state could choose to voluntarily adopt.”

But she said those goals went off track.

“Unfortunately, federal overreach has tainted Common Core,” Fallin said. “President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards. The results are predictable. What should have been a bipartisan policy is now widely regarded as the president’s plan to establish federal control of curricula, testing and teaching strategies.”

His remarks Monday were far more stern than his remarks in March when Indiana opted out. “They absolutely have the right to do this,” Duncan told TheBlaze.“This is a state-led effort; it always has been, always will be. And whatever Indiana decides, we want to work with them to make sure that students have a chance to be successful.”

The Common Core State Standards are k-12 math and English standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It was initially adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia. Now even many of the states that are not considering repeal are reviewing or delaying the implementation.

Duncan did not definitively say whether the states that opted out of Common Core would lose federal education grants. But he did say the department supported high standards that didn’t have to be from Common Core.

“What we’ve always been about is high standards, college and career ready standards,” Duncan said. “What we’re reacting to is, as you may remember, on No Child Left Behind, it’s not the intent.”

“We had about 20 states actually dumbing down their standards to make politicians look good,” he said. “That’s bad for kids. That’s bad for the country. It’s terrible for education. We need to have high, internationally benchmark, college and career ready standards. So whether Common Core or not, that’s less the issue, it’s more having high standards.”