Week in Class: Week Twelve 2013 – What’s the Question?


06/11/18 12:47:15 BEIJING
My previous post looked at a badly done task via Common Core. To cleanse my palate and focus on the positive, I’d like to share some of the questions that I’ve heard and asked, in my classroom as part of formative assessment. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes more is really less


Sample Items | Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

The item above comes from a sample item on the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) website, and it’s supposed to assess the writing  of an argument (what used to be called persuasive writing). Click on the image to get a larger view to read the task.
Read the rest of this entry »

What’s the part of white privilege that wasn’t clear?


Jose Luis Vilson has been picking at the scab of race around issues in ed reform recently. This post about the “white suburban mom” gaffe US Secretary of Education Duncan  last week showed that some  folks were not in favor of contextualizing both the original comment, and the public response, in terms of race.

I understand where Mr. Vilson is coming from. I corrected some folks when this broke on social media last weekend about whether calling moms “white” was racists because if he had said “black” moms, it would have been. I can’t even picture the Secretary saying that, not because of the potential offense it would cause, but because he doesn’t even feel he has to address their concerns.

The Gary Larsen cartoon above is a pretty good depiction of the dynamic. When white suburban moms speak, it’s like the owner talking to a dog (in this case, Education Secretary Duncan). “Blah, blah, Common Core, blah, blah” is what Duncan hears. But, when black parents speak to Duncan, he’s just like a cat. Their words don’t even exist to him.

Am I mad about what Duncan said? Heck yes! While I sincerely hope that alienating white suburban females will be the straw that broke the camel’s back of this Secretary of Education, I know he’s done a lot more, and a lot worse than this to black and brown children, families, and neighborhoods (which Julian Vasquez Heilig conveniently lists here).

But, I’m not a racist!


Just to put recent events in their proper context, let’s take a look at how white education “reformers” (female and male) in charge of low SES/high minority districts see their charges, I bring you Cami Anderson, superintendent of the Newark New Jersey school district.

For years, because of the annual New Jersey Educational Association Convention in Atlantic City, NPS closed its doors so teachers could attend. Families lost valuable classroom time and with too many young people idle, crime went up…
via Bob Braun’s Ledger

The letter also tries to imply this is a meeting for a union that Newark teachers don’t even belong to. Just to clarify, The NJEA Convention is a long-standing educational conference that offers professional development. I’ve followed it via Kevin Jarrett’s posts for years. But, even if it was a union meeting with lots of cigar smoke, booze, and what-not, her comment would still be racist. I’m mad at Arne Duncan for his misogynistic comments about white women like myself. Unfortunately, there have been so many whack comments like the one above over the years, I’m at the point of just shaking my head in sadness. The idea of having someone like this in charge of the education of the children is appalling and should offend our sense of decency as much or more than Duncan’s psycho-gyno analysis.

Just another hysterical female…


Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the 19th century. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and  “a tendency to cause trouble”. In extreme cases the woman would be forced into the asylum and under go surgical hysterectomy. - from Wikipedia (emphasis mine)

As the Obama Administration’s education policy rolls on into a second term, I didn’t think that Arne Duncan was in any danger of having to find a new job, but that was before reading this bit on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog. Here is the gist:

…opposition to the Common Core State Standards 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.”

While the article notes that Duncan has made similar statements before, this is only true in the sense that he’s said that suburban kids are not doing as well as many thought, and that districts had been “lying” to parents about how well their children were doing. Now he is suggesting that “mothers” have joined these districts in some  Folie à Deux (since we’re on outdated psychiatric diagnosis, I thought I’d throw that one in).

This new argument, however, goes one step further than insulting the intelligence of mothers, and the professionalism of New York educators, as he also has thrown in the race card. You don’t call out “white” suburban moms without a reason. Whatever I believe about Mr. Duncan, he is a very canny communicator, and the use of that term was deliberate. He’s trying to say something about this “delusion” white mothers have about their kids being tied in with a sense of race privilege. It’s a really masterful use of verbal jujitsu, and plays well to certain audiences. Those audiences, alas, do not include white women.

Recent combativeness and disrespect to “moms” of this type by New York Commissioner John King led to calls for his ouster, and while he is still standing, he’s taken a position against testing in K-2. Whatever the reasons for that announcement, needing to throw a bone to his opponents probably had something to do with it (either in timing or content).

What could make statements like this from Mr. Duncan beyond the pale in the administration? Well, there are mid-term elections coming up. The Democrats will need white female voters, many of whom have not been enamored of the Tea Party. There is one policy exception to this: moms who don’t like the Common Core, find comity with the Tea Party on that issue. I’m not one who believes that Obama has no idea what his Education Secretary is doing in his name, what I’m wondering is if the pollsters and election advisors at the DNC do, because if they do, he’s probably going to be taken to the woodshed shortly.



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All of Ms. Mercer's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Howdy! I teach sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. I started my career in Oakland, Ca, and moved here to Sacramento in 2001.

My goals are:

  1. To reflect on how I am teaching, and how effective my practices are;
  2. To reflect on my profession, and how effective various practices are;
  3. To understand the political and cultural context that we teach in; and,
  4. To network with other like-minded educators.

To help me reach my goals, I use this blog as a place for me to reflect on best practices, and the practices I’m (trying to) putting in place in my classroom.

I can be contacted here.


The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not those of Sacramento City Unified School District.