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Duncan Apologizes For 'Clumsy' Common Core Remarks


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is apologizing today for what he called clumsy phrasing. Speaking last week about the new Common Core standards, Duncan said, white suburban moms are now finding out their children aren't as brilliant as they thought they were. As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, Duncan's words have created an uproar online and led some to call for his resignation.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: There's nothing like injecting issues of race, class and gender into the already politically-charged Common Core debate to set off the blogosphere and social media. During an otherwise routine gathering of state school superintendents on Friday, Secretary Duncan suggested that much of the opposition to the new reading and math guidelines is coming from soccer moms whose kids are facing tougher standards and tougher tests. The site Education Week posted scratchy audio of his comments from the event.

SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN: And 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, their schools aren't quite as good as they thought they were. And that's pretty scary.

WESTERVELT: Duncan called that reality a punch in the gut for many parents. The online reaction has been fast, fierce and continuous. Many called Duncan a racist and said he was insulting. One mom tweeted, "white man in power dismisses, denigrates women and their opinions." On the Facebook group MAD, for Moms Against Duncan, another mom wrote, "I ain't white, and it doesn't matter a damn, but I am a mom, and I am now in angry Mommy Bear mode."

Some minority parents tweeted that all those outraged over Duncan's comments are conspicuously quiet when issues of education and white privilege are raised. One woman tweeted, "explain to me how a white male calling out white moms is racist?" and added "some folks really need to try decaf." Critics on the right have long voiced alarm that the Common Core is tantamount to a national curriculum that will erode local control.

Duncan has previously enraged opponents when he called the Common Core pushback political silliness and, quote, "a rallying cry for fringe groups." On his Education Department blog on Monday, Duncan apologized for what he called clumsy phrasing. Later on CNN, he said his comments were part of a larger point.

DUNCAN: So many of our children, not just in inner cities, but in suburban communities, I think, aren't getting the education they need and deserve. And so I was challenging the state leaders there, letting them know how important higher standards are, but what it takes for all of us to work to achieve those higher standards.

WESTERVELT: But today, many critics called Duncan's apology insincere and they charged that he's trying to silence criticism of the Common Core standards. Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.