Shortly before Thanksgiving, Arne Duncan made a glib remark about the Common Core that quickly blew up.
Speaking before a gathering of state schools chiefs, the secretary of education dismissed growing opposition to the new national set of learning standards, saying "white suburban moms" were rising up against the Core simply because its more rigorous tests meant they were being told "their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were."
The riff wasn't all that different from Duncan's usual words of support for the Common Core. He often says states have "dummied down standards" and insists officials need to tell students the truth about just how smart they are. But as soon as he named "white suburban moms" as part of the problem, his refrain became the gaffe heard 'round the mom-blogger world.
The pointed phrasing fed into parents' bubbling anxiety about the Core, more fully known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an education push that aims to make sure students across the United States are learning the skills they need to succeed in a global economy. In recent months, as schools began teaching and testing students on the new standards -- and telling families about their plans -- what started as an effort by officials to remake American education has become a favored punching bag of pundits and parents alike.