‘White suburban mom’ responds to Arne Duncan

This photo taken Nov. 7, 2013 shows Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaking Malcolm X Elementary School in Washington. Duncan continued to face criticism Monday over reported remarks that seemed to dismiss “white suburban moms” for opposing higher academic standards. Duncan has consistently shown little patience for critics of the Common Core State Standards, being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia. But his remarks, as reported by Politico, went a step further and add elements of race and class. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Education Secretary Arne Duncan                             (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Parent Ali Gordon has written an open letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan that starts like this:

I am a white suburban mom, and I’m reaching out to you in an effort to explain what seems to be very confusing to you.

Gordon’s letter (see below) is part of backlash that resulted from Duncan’s remarks on Friday to state school superintendents that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common has come from “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.”  Duncan published a post  Monday on the department’s website blaming “clumsy phrasing” for the controversy. He wrote  in part:

A few days ago, in a discussion with state education chiefs, I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret – particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success

In talking about the importance of communicating about higher learning standards, I singled out one group of parents when my aim was to say that we need to communicate better to all groups – especially those that haven’t been well reached in this conversation. I have not been shy in letting the country know the enormous value of the state-led movement to prepare young people for college and careers. My goal was to urge elected leaders and educators to be more vigorous in making that case, too, particularly when recent polling shows that a majority of Americans may not even know what these higher standards are.

 

Here’s the letter from Ali Gordon:

 

Dear Secretary Duncan,

I am a white suburban mom, and I’m reaching out to you in an effort to explain what seems to be very confusing to you. Your statement on Friday that some of the foes of the Common Core are “white suburban mothers who find out all of a sudden their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” leads me to believe that you’ve been spending too much time in D.C. Perhaps you would like to come to Long Island and meet with some of us, and our friends who are not white, living in suburbs, cities, and in rural areas. It might do you some good, and help you to reframe your thoughts on those of us who have been advocating for our children.

I don’t like to be lumped into any one group. I’m actually a pretty complicated individual. Initially you tried to convince people that the only people who oppose the Common Core are Tea Partiers. Let me assure you, I’m about as far from a Tea Party member as you could imagine. I am a Progressive, bleeding heart liberal. I not only voted for President Obama twice, but I donated to his campaign and volunteered to knock on doors. My husband and I brought our family to both Obama inaugurations.

Just so you’re clear that I’m not a bored housewife, I work full time. I am also an elected Board of Education Trustee for the Comsewogue School District, and my local public library. I’m a uterine cancer survivor; this month marks one year cancer free for me after two years of very difficult treatments. I’ve been a very active member of my community for many years.

I’m a mom of four kids. My oldest daughter is in her sophomore year at Simmons College in Boston majoring in economics (she was ‘college ready’ before the Common Core). My second daughter is a senior in high school, and a member of many Honor Societies. We are in the midst of her college application process now. My only son is in 7th grade, and he is very creative, but struggles academically. After advocating for him for many years, I was able to get him an IEP and the services he needs. My youngest daughter is in 5th grade, and also has an IEP. In addition to her academic struggles, she has epilepsy.

Now that you know a little more about me, let me explain to you very clearly how I feel about the Common Core implementation. I am not completely opposed to the idea of common set of standards throughout the country  – although I believe any state that adopts such a measure should do so on its merits, not because they were offered money in exchange for its adoption. I think another word for that is extortion. I’m also not opposed to high standards. I love the idea of making all children strive to be the best they can be, challenging them to imagine more for themselves, and encouraging them to work towards goals — as long as we realize that they will not all reach the same level of proficiency.

I am, however , opposed to standards, and more specifically curriculum, that are developmentally inappropriate. I am strongly opposed to the number of standardized tests students are subjected to, which have no bearing whatsoever on their education. I believe the money schools are forced to spend on the administration, and scoring of all the testing could be put to much better use, and the same goes for the amount of time spent on testing. I’m also opposed to the 1% — Bill Gates, et al–  imposing a business model mentality on public schools.

It’s certainly not, as you implied, that I have some unrealistic idea of my kids’ abilities.  I don’t. I’m very aware of their strengths and weaknesses. I know that each of my children have different learning styles, and I recognize that what worked very well for my oldest daughter will absolutely not work well for my youngest. I am confident that my kids’ teachers know that as well. They have the education, experience, and expertise to differentiate instruction for varying abilities and learning styles. The Common Core is a one size fits all approach to millions of different minds… it cannot benefit every child, especially those with learning disabilities. It also completely ignores the effect of poverty on achievement. No silver bullet education program will have the kind of success you are looking for nationally unless you address child poverty.

By the way, you might want to have a chat with New York Education Commissioner John King, because he is certainly not doing you any favors with regards to getting the suburban moms on board with the Common Core. He and his department have botched the implementation of CC here at every turn. They created a curriculum, EngageNY, that is rife with errors, intentionally confusing, and very poorly written. He’s had several public forums around the state that have not gone well. He’s listened to parents, teachers and administrators speak about how our children hate school, are feeling defeated, are being forced to read and interpret reading passages that are developmentally inappropriate, and on and on, but he ends every meeting with the same refrain. “We stand united in our effort to move forward with the implementation of the Common Core. Now is not the time for delay.” Honestly, the time for delay was years ago, when states adopted the standards before they were even completely written.

The rest of the country is watching what we ‘suburban moms’ do now, so thanks for the shout out. One more thing you should know about me — I’m incredibly stubborn. I assure you, I won’t back down. I will not stop advocating for my children. I will not let you, or Commissioner King experiment with my child’s education because Bill Gates has lots of money to throw away. He said himself it would take a decade to see if his “education stuff” works. My kids don’t have a decade to waste on your hunches or his money.

Again, I would encourage you to visit some of us suburban moms before you dismiss us. I would be happy to host you in my suburban home at any time that is convenient to you. I’m no Bill Gates, but I make a mean chocolate chip cookie.

Sincerely,

Ali Gordon

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · November 19, 2013