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Some Kids “Aren’t Brilliant”? This Duncan Blunder Is Bigger Than It First Appears

November 17, 2013

In May 2010, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the first annual “Mom Congress” at Georgetown University. Duncan’s goal, as reported on the USDOE website, was “to discuss how to effect meaningful change in American education and to mobilize millions of parents to become more involved in their children’s learning.” [Emphasis added.]

Duncan wants parents to be “more involved” in the educational process. But there is a hitch– as there always is with the reformer version of “parental involvement”:

The parental involvement must coincide with the reform agenda.

Consider this excerpt from Duncan’s speech at the May 2010 Moms Congress:

Parents can serve in at least one of three roles: Partners in learning, advocates and advisors who push for better schools, and decision-makers who choose the best educational options for their children.

When parents demand change and better options for their children, they become the real accountability backstop for the educational system. Parents have more choices today than ever before, from virtual schools to charters to career academies. And our schools need empowered parents.

We need parents to speak out and drive change in chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education. With parental support, those struggling schools need to be turned around now—not tomorrow, because children get only one chance at an education. [Emphasis added.]

Our little Democratic US Sec of Ed is promoting the Jeb Bush/American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda of school closure, online schools, charters, and vouchers.

These are the “choices” Duncan is willing to allow parents to make.

But what if those moms decide that they do not want the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (also a Bush-endorsed reform) Duncan is so fond of defending?

Well, first Duncan tries to ignore these mothers’ (and other caregivers’) complaints and publicly attribute CCSS opposition to “ideologues and extremists in our [political] parties”. (It seems when it comes to education reform, the US no longer has two political parties, just one mammoth party in favor of education reform.)

However, parental complaints against CCSS continue to mount (just peruse Diane Ravitch’s blog on the subject).

In my own school district in Louisiana, parental discontent over CCSS led to our district’s drafting an anti-CCSS resolution in October.

Bottom line: A growing number of parents do not want CCSS.

So, how does Duncan decide to address the anti-CCSS sentiment that is clearly originating with parents?

He hones in on the “White suburban” mothers and chooses to publicly state that these mothers just can’t seem to admit that their children “aren’t brilliant.” Notice how Duncan immediately attempts to put words into parents’ mouths by his adding that the parents are also upset with the quality of the schools their children attend:

“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….” [Emphasis added.]

Aside from the obvious foolishness of Duncan’s singling out “White suburban mothers” and publicly insulting both them and the intelligence levels of their children, Duncan has actually made a bigger blunder:

He has just undermined the entire foundation of education reform: Lack of educational achievement is never the child’s fault. The child has limitless potential. If children aren’t “college and career ready,” it’s the teachers. It’s the schools. Never the kids.

Duncan used to promote the “potential in every child” mantra. He eagerly reinforced it when speaking at the Moms Conference in 2010:

To see the extraordinary potential that every child has, no matter where they come from—that is what I learned from my mother’s work–and that is what drives me today. We cannot let any child fall through the cracks…. [Emphasis added.]

So let’s get this straight: When it comes to enlisting parental involvement in school closures, and online education, and vouchers, and charters, Duncan is doing so because he believes in “the extraordinary potential that every child has.”

However, when  it comes to parents’ knowing that CCSS is the problem and not their children– when it comes to parents fighting CCSS because they see their children “falling though the CCSS cracks”– Duncan insults both children and parents and clings like a needy lover to CCSS.

If the “problem” is that the children “aren’t brilliant,” as Duncan says– that the children lack the potential to master CCSS– then basing teacher evaluations on student test scores is moot, and grading schools is moot,  and school choice to “improve educational options” is moot, and closing community schools only to replace them with charters is moot.

In order for corporate reform to succeed, it can never allow that children might have limited potential. “All students college and career ready”– the CCSS byline– is made an obvious lie.

Uh, oh, Arne. In trying to save CCSS, it looks like you have contributed significantly to the unraveling of the entire corporate reform agenda.

Jeb won’t like that.



  1. Tesakary permalink

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
    The deformers can’t keep the rhetoric straight and will eventually wind up unraveling their whole misguided profit and data-driven scheme by themselves. Unfortunately they will hurt a lot of students, parents, and educators in the process.

  2. Robin S Eubanks book titled ” CREDENTIALED TO DESTROY. How Education Became a Weapon. “. Is , in my opinion, a must read. She brilliantly details “what is intended to be a wholesale transformation of the U S economy and society without any of our consent. ”
    Author and attorney she lays out what was supposed to remain hidden until it was too late to stop the sought ‘irrereversable change’ and tells us:
    IfEducation is a means to an End, what is the Real Vision to Transformation?
    –Howthe reading and math wars were never about how to teach.
    —How the new Common Core is actually not about content.
    —Wjy the logical, rational mind is the real target of education reform.
    —Why higher Ed had to be changed to push equity in credentials as the goal.
    —What’s wrong with 22st Century Skills focus.
    —Why the classroom objective keeps coming back to the students values, attitudes, and beliefs.
    Available from My hope is that some of you who contribute to this blog will read this insightful work and recommend it too.
    You will understand why suburban kids are singled out by the Secretary as not being brilliant… they are the next targets of the intensified battle to change their values, attitudes, and beliefs. Robin Eubanks explains the method and , if I may say, the madness that is Common Core.

    • Veteran Educator permalink

      Funny you would leave out the fact that this book is about the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory.

      Corporate education reform is not about replacing capitalism with socialism. It is fundamentally a neo-liberal economic policy, first promoted by the GOP but supported by both parties since Clinton. The aim is for virtually all public services to be sold off and turned into private ventures in capitalist markets, so that the rich can get richer. It’s a business plan, not a conspiracy theory. Read books like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error instead of this nonsense.

      • That’s the benefit of commenters, Veteran. They can add to my writing.

        If you knew what little time I had to devote to writing this post yesterday, you would be surprised it has as much info in it as it does.

      • Polly Anglin permalink

        Robin’s book is not about Agenda 21, which, by the way, is NOT a conspiracy. For years, those of us who have researched the Reform of Education have been accused of being conspiracy nuts. Conspiracy is hidden. Ed Reform and Agenda 21 are out in the open for all who choose to see and are joined in their mission .
        Ed Reform and Agenda 21 have the same agenda, which is the point of Robin’s book and her blog, Invisible Serfs Collar. Global control by the Elite.
        I have read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and find the control revealed there to be , as the title suggests, shocking.
        Education run as a business model destroys individual initiative and creativity and serves only to create wealth and power for the few who would control ‘Globally’ from the Right or Left or wherever.
        I have not read Diane’s book yet, but I will. I follow her blog and see her defending the public school system. I also see Common Core as a real and present danger to that system and our Nation. Training a global workforce, changing values, beliefs and attitudes of individuals and demanding group think ? Not a good idea. Has never worked and never will.
        I ask that folks read Robin’s book and then decide the value of her work.

    • Veteran Educator permalink

      Mercedes, it’s propaganda and no different from what’s put out by Fox News pundits, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. Take a look inside the book here:

      • Propaganda indeed. Now I know that you have not and will not read Robins book. Your loss and Mercedes for taking your word on this.
        I see you also post on Diane’s blog so I assume you will attack me from there too. I won’t waste my time on either blog.

    • Veteran Educator permalink

      One can read a lot of that book on Amazon and readily recognize familiar arguments that have been promoted by right-wing factions. And yes, some Tea Partyers have already made those accusations on Diane Ravitch’s blog. It really is just more shock doctrine and propaganda that people have fallen for.

  3. Sharon Bahe permalink

    Let the unraveling finally begin. My only hope is it’s not too late!

  4. Among the few things that I look forward to when I check my email are the brilliant updates provided by you, Mercedes. I only hope our thanks provides some (enough?) incentive to carry on! Thanks.

  5. Join us, Moms, Dads, Grandparents, and Students…in taking action. Vote to remove Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education 100,000 signatures needed by Dec.16th. Let’s move this! (Arne and Jeb won’t like this!)

  6. If a teacher made a racist and sexist Public comment the media would be all over it!!! Why is NO ONE talking about it in this light!!! Why white? Does he think about people as black and white and not as people? If anyone made a statement saying anything about Black urban mothers there would be a major Uproar!! Does he think that there are NO Black Suburban Mothers and Fathers!! Why is the media Letting him get away with this?

  7. flbusbaby permalink

    Please read and consider signing this petition asking for the removal of Secretary Duncan. And share with like-minded folks! Thank you.

  8. Shully permalink

    The problems that Arne Duncan and the Dept of Education have caused cannot be fixed.
    The only solution is to dismantle the Dept of Education. It is causing permanent damage to our children’s mental health, and it is causing corrosive school politics all over the country.
    Our children are not in good hands. We need to dismantle the Dept of Education and allow the states and communities to manage their own schools. They will certainly do a better job than
    a puppet for big money politics who is creating a nightmare for our children’s mental health and future.


  9. Shully permalink


    That is the ONLY solution!

  10. So much for Common Core opponents being fringe elements and wackos.

  11. monarda permalink

    Fringe, wackos, and white middle class women? Hmm.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. And in Washington - U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan explains problem with Common Core…some Kids “Aren’t Brilliant” - Wait What?
  2. White suburban dads: Wimps? | Reclaim Reform
  3. Schneider Deconstructs Arne Duncan | Diane Ravitch's blog
  4. A Top Ten of Duncan’s Inanity: Obama’s Basketball Buddy Drops Ball on Ed | Cloaking Inequity
  5. How do you spell disaster? Arne Duncan - Wait What?
  6. Twelve Embarrassing Years of NCLB and RTTT: Time for Arne to Blame USDOE #stopcommoncore #ccss | Stop Common Core Illinois
  7. Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois
  8. Pennsylvanians Against Common Core Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game - Pennsylvanians Against Common Core
  9. Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game | Dr. Rich Swier
  10. Twelve Embarrassing Years of NCLB and RTTT: Time for Arne to Blame USDOE | Georgia SchoolWatch
  11. December 2015 Is Gone, and So Is Arne Duncan– But USDOE Nonsense Remains | deutsch29
  12. Doug Harris’ Book, Charter School City ((Shaking My Head)) | deutsch29

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