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Arne Duncan reflects on 'white suburban moms' comment

The education secretary was attempting to warn teachers about the importance of raising standards when he made his comment about "white suburban moms"last week.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan reflected on his recent comment about “white suburban moms” opposing educational reforms on Thursday’s Morning Joe.

“My wording was clumsy and I apologize for it," he said. "My message was very, very simple: When you raise standards, that's a challenging thing. I was challenging state school chief officers to do a better job of articulating why raising standards is the right thing for all children," he said.

Last Friday, at a gathering of state superintendents of education in Richmond, Va., Duncan singled out one group of parents who he said were rebelling against the Common Care State Standards -- an educational initiative to make sure students around the U.S. are taught the same benchmarks.  

"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, and that's pretty scary. You've bet your house and where you live and everything on, 'My child's going to be prepared.' That can be a punch in the gut," Duncan said last week.

Critics immediately pounced on those comments.

Duncan apologized in a post Monday on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

“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,” he wrote.

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and four territories have adopted the standards.

Five states—Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska—have not yet adopted the standards, which are guidelines for math and English language arts instruction.

But many states are “doing the right thing” by raising standards, Duncan said on the show. Officials and educators need to communicate that concept to parents, which he said is the idea he was trying to convey last week.

“When you dummy down standards, when you’re lying to children, that affects all children, that affects all families,” he said. “Every child needs to have high standards. That was my very simple point.”

Less than 9% of college students who graduate in the top third of their class consider teaching, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Duncan on Thursday launched Make More, a public awareness campaign to recruit the next generation of teachers. Half of the country’s educators will be eligible to retire during the next decade.

Duncan added that he “desperately” wants educational success in American communities.