There are some misconceptions about the Common Core State Standards — namely that they were created by the federal government and represent a federal overreach into state and local education policy — that couldn’t be further from the truth. (The Common Core was created by states with the guidance of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. States decided to adopt these standards, and states are responsible for making sure their students meet the adopted standards.) But, when Secretary Arne Duncan — as well-intentioned as he may be — talks about the importance of these standards, he risks reinforcing these misconceptions.

It’s clear that Duncan should have been more careful choosing his words when he recently harped on “white suburban moms.” The comments were ill-timed and, to use his words, “clumsy.” Any new set of standards requires buy-in from our most vocal education advocates: parents. And singling out one, but not the only, group of parents for their opposition simply because they’ve been the loudest doesn’t help increase that buy-in and understanding of what the standards are about.

So what lessons have we learned?

  • A strong federal voice is not always necessary — and sometimes, it just makes things worse.
  • Don’t pick on one group of people because they have the temerity to oppose you. It makes you look insensitive and definitely doesn’t increase the likelihood that all of the other people trying to sort out what to think about this topic will like you or your ideas.
  • Duncan should have stuck to the facts: Common Core will allow policymakers and educators to be honest about how students are performing and ensure that all students are college- and career-ready when they leave high school.
  • Empower those actively involved in the implementation of the Common Core to spread awareness and educate those around them. In the case of the Common Core, parents’ buy-in is critical. They must understand what’s changing, why, what the results will be and, most importantly, how college- and career-ready standards for all students will help their children. As such, they should hear from their own state education chief, governor, and educators — people who are intimately involved in the process of implementing the new standards.

You may recall that New York didn’t do a great job conveying information or setting expectations by the time new assessment results were released, drawing a lot of criticism and now, emotions are running high in Common Core meetings across the state. On the other side of the communication coin, Kentucky — a state now in its third year of Common Core assessments — established the state department of education as a trusted source of information to keep everyone informed. Kentucky’s scores also went down its first year, but Kentuckians were prepared.

When people understand the goal of the standards, they’re more likely to get on board, which is why effective communication is so important. But the more education leaders single out groups, don’t stick to the facts, and don’t give parents the hard line that these standards will be a heavy lift for all, the more Common Core supporters we will lose.