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Duncan Dumps on Oklahoma in a June 9 Press Conference

June 10, 2014

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was asked in a June 9, 2014, press conference about Oklahoma’s decision to drop the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin– who also happens to be the chair of CCSS license co-owner National Governors Association (NGA)– signed Oklahoma HB 3399 into law on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Here are the two questions asked of Duncan on the issue and his responses:

Q    Okay.  And on Common Core, there are governors in three states that have signed legislation basically opting their states out of the Common Core standards.  Is the administration looking to do anything to try to keep other states from following that example?  And could states that do opt out lose federal education funds?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  So to be very, very clear — and you guys can help to clear this up — what we have always been about is high standards and college- and career-ready standards.  And what we’re reacting to, as you guys may remember under No Child Left Behind, it’s not the intent, but we had about 20 states actually dummy down their standards to make politicians look good.  And that’s bad for kids, it’s bad for the country, it’s terrible for education.  But we need to have high international benchmark college- and career-ready standards.  And so whether common or not, that’s less the issue; it’s more having high standards. 

The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one.  Just to give you a couple facts — and I think sadly, this is not about education; this is about politics.  So in Oklahoma, about 40 percent of high school graduates — these are not the dropouts — 40 percent of high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college.  Why?  Because they weren’t ready — 40 percent.  About 25 percent of Oklahoma’s eighth-graders in math are proficient — 25 percent.  And other states locally are out-educating Oklahoma. 

And if you go back to just a couple of months ago, this is what Governor Fallin said about higher standards — I’m quoting her — 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 Governor Fallin — “I want to be really clear:  Common Core is not a federal program.  It is driven and implemented by those states who choose to participate.  It’s also not a federal curriculum.  In fact, it’s not a curriculum at all.  Local educators and school districts will still design the best lesson plans and choose appropriate textbooks, and will drive classroom learning.”

So what changed?  Politics changed.

Q    Governor Fallin has also said signing this legislation, said that there’s a possibility that her state could lose federal funding.  Is that a realistic possibility? 

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  So, again, we are partnering with folks who have high standards.  If people want to dummy down standards, that’s a very different thing.  We partner with states whether they’re in Common Core or have their own high standards.  But where we will challenge status quo is when states dummy down standards.

Q    I’m sorry, is that a yes, that states that pull out and don’t have a similar set of standards could lose federal funding?

SECRETRARY DUNCAN:  If they do not have high — again, I’m repeating myself.  What we’re asking is that standards be high — college- and career-ready — not certified by us, but certified by the local institutions of higher education.  And what we want to make sure is that our high school graduates — we got a dropout problem we got to deal with.  We want to make sure our high school graduates aren’t having to take remedial classes, burn up Pell grants, burn up student loans taking non-credit bearing.  And right now, roughly 40 percent of those graduates in Oklahoma are having to do that.  We don’t think that’s good for those young people, their families, or for the country. [Emphasis added.]

First, allow me to address Duncan’s grand assumption that CCSS is superior to all state standards. CCSS was never piloted and certainly never formally tested in comparison to all other state standards. CCSS was bankrolled by billionaire Bill Gates and created in a rush.  In June 2009, Duncan and NGA bragged that 46 states and three territories had signed on for as-of-yet not-created CCSS.

Duncan accuses states of  “dummying down” their standards. However, he never acknowledges just how dumb it was for 49 state/territorial governors to agree to bind their state/territorial education systems to a set of standards (and high-stakes assessments) that were not yet created.

There is a second “dumb” piece to Duncan’s insinuating that Oklahoma had “dumbed down” its standards: The very-pro-CCSS Fordham Institute graded Oklahoma’s state standards as “too close to call” in comparison to CCSS– and they only gave CCSS a B-plus in English Language Arts (ELA) and an A-minus in math.

Duncan would have the world believe that CCSS is a tried-and true A-plus. However, he has zero proof for such an assertion– not even from the very-pro-CCSS Fordham Institute.

Moving on.

In his response, Duncan also insinuates that out of all Oklahoma high school graduates, forty percent required post-secondary remedial course work. However, he provides no information about the actual percentage of Oklahoma high school graduates admitted into post-secondary institutions. Duncan’s “forty percent” is a percentage of a subset.

A second point regarding the “forty percent” of Oklahoma students accepted into college (not even sure on this point– perhaps they applied and were not accepted) and requiring remediation: It is possible that a number of these students graduated without choosing to complete the prerequisite college course work in high school. Furthermore, some might be ESL (English as a second language). Duncan does not provide such info.

However, here is Duncan’s great undoing on this “forty percent” point:  If these statistics are for the current year (2013-14), Oklahoma was following CCSS. So, Duncan’s stats indict CCSS— which Oklahoma began transitioning to in 2010.

Moving on to Duncan’s “25 percent proficiency in math” comment: On the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), Oklahoma  25 percent of eighth-grade students scored “proficient” or above in math. This score did not differ significantly from 2011 (27 percent) according to the 2013 NAEP math report for Oklahoma.

So, since the time that Oklahoma began transitioning to CCSS, Oklahoma eighth graders’ NAEP math scores flattened out. Not much of a selling point for CCSS.

Another comment regarding NAEP scoring: According to education historian Diane Ravitch, who served on the NAEP board for seven years, “proficient” is excellent work– equivalent to an “A.” It is not the “average” or C-level scoring that Duncan neglected to clarify.

Moving on yet again.

Duncan tried to knock Fallin for her former defense of CCSS. However, in her defense, she included language that secured her right as a state governor to exit CCSS: “States who choose to participate.” If states can “choose” to opt for CCSS, they can “choose” to opt out of CCSS. To remain in CCSS once the state legislature passes a bill to opt out would have made Fallin the state– and she chose not to be the state in her decision to hear her state legislature and sign Oklahoma out of CCSS.

Duncan is right in noting that “politics changed.” He wanted Fallin  and Oklahoma to fall lock-step in line with his politics, and they did not. This is the same man who insists that CCSS is not federally-driven– the same man who is running Race to the Top (RTTT), which includes the requirement that states belong to a standards consortium– and requires proof of such membership to be considered for RTTT funding.

Finally, Duncan refuses directly answer the question of whether Oklahoma will lose federal funding as punishment (let’s just call is what it is) for exiting CCSS. Duncan implies that Oklahoma will face the same fate as Indiana and be required to prove its state standards are “high” by getting approval of higher ed.

In the case of both Indiana and Oklahoma, the Fordham Institute– which has been travelling state-to-state to testify on behalf of CCSS– graded both Indiana’s and Oklahoma’s state standards as comparable with the CCSS that they are pushing as a replacement.

Duncan wants to bully states exercising autonomy over education affairs to provide post-secondary institution “permission” to use standards other than CCSS– when he has never provided the public with substantive evidence that CCSS can deliver on its “college and career ready” slogan in the first place.


Like my writing? Read my newly-released ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education


  1. Just like most politicians, especially those at higher levels than local governments, they very seldom answer questions directly. Duncan had many opportunities to answer the first question with a direct answer, but went in a different direction. The same is true with how the government is going as far as a majority of Americans are wishing, in the OPPOSITE direction!

  2. Duncan: If they do not have high — again, I’m repeating myself. What we’re asking is that standards be high — college- and career-ready — not certified by us, but certified by the local institutions of higher education.

    My question to Duncan: What “local institutions of higher education” “certified” the Common Core standards? Is that a red herring to lead people to believe that the Common Core standards were/are “certified” by IHEs? I’ve been trying to locate the Standards Certification Office on my university campus……haven’t found it yet.

  3. Thanks Mercedes! You CRUSHED Duncan in your post! Let me help you further.

    1. EdWeeks State Education Highlights for 2014 ( indicate that Oklahoma’s increase in 4th grade math scores is 9.8% – 2.6% ABOVE the national average – and that was BEFORE Common Core math!
    2. Yes, Oklahoma’s 8th grade math scores are nothing to write home about, but why we can’t use the methods for fourth graders that appear to have created a shining example for the nation in math gains, I can’t imagine.
    3. Arne does two things – apparently makes up a percentage of students needing remediation off the top of his head (Please give me a citation on that Arne! I’m dying to know where that one came from.) – and he never answers the question that was given to him two separate times (Are you going to dock Oklahoma federal education funds for their impertinence?). Could it be that just as he plays fast and loose with his education figures, he does the same with policy? I think the answer is, “yup”.
    4. What Duncan doesn’t mention in his diatribe are the following facts pulled from the aforementioned document: Oklahoma is SECOND IN THE NATION in steady employment
    = adults in labor force working full time and year-round (2012). SECOND. Gosh, for all his equity-intense education policy, you’d think he’d be genuflecting and kissing Mary Fallin’s ring! We’re also 17th in the nation in parental employment = Children with at least one parent working full time and year-round (2012).

    Maybe, as we’ve said over and over again for four years, Oklahoma is not like New York, California or D.C. Maybe the secret to Oklahoma’s successful economic engine is providing an excellent career-ready education so students can go directly into the career-tech system and into the thousands of skilled labor technical jobs that are currently open across Oklahoma. As Oklahoma City’s Bob Funk of Express Personnel says, “There is a shortage of skilled labor technical jobs, and many young people who could fill those jobs are getting college degrees in areas where there are no jobs waiting for them when they graduate.” (

    So…(as Arne likes to begin every sentence – most likely as a stall technique while his brain thinks of some wild statistic to pull out of its dark recesses) maybe college isn’t for everybody. Maybe pushing college is great for New York, California and DC, but it won’t fly here in this flyover state. We need to be able to do both, and do both well. That’s more than likely at least one reason why Oklahoma parents told him to take a hike.

    • Ropeok, thank you for supplying additional details on OK education.

      Duncan is an ex-pro-basketball player who was placed in the position
      of US Ed Secretary by his Chicago pal Obama.

      Soo… this is the best he can give in a press conference, I suppose.

      Fish in a proverbial barrel.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Duncan Insinuates Oklahoma is Dumbing Down Standards | American Principles Project
  2. Arne Duncan vs. Oklahoma | UniteOC

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