What is most troubling to me on the standards issue is that far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois — I think we are fundamentally lying to children. Let me explain what I mean.
When children are told they are “meeting a state standard,” the logical assumption for that child or for that parent is to think they are on-track to be successful. But because these standards have been dummied down and lowered so much in so many places, when a child is “meeting the state standard” they are in fact barely able to graduate from high school. And they are absolutely inadequately prepared to go to a competitive university, let alone graduate.
Wait. What did he say?
There are always going to be kids who are "meeting the state standard" who are barely able to graduate from high school, right? In fact, it is the kids who are barely able to graduate for whom standards are most relevant. Isn't the whole idea that there will be kids who are below standard, and the state says unto them "You must achieve this standard," and once they "barely" do that, then they can "barely" graduate?
And how are we going to get everyone into a "competitive" university? Won't the requirements of a "competitive" university inherently rise to be out of reach of the majority of students? Isn't that what makes it "competitive?"
Yeah, I know I'm being kind of nit-picky here, but these aren't peripheral issues and this wasn't an off-the-cuff remark by Duncan. The kids who are right at the knife-edge of graduating or not are incredibly vulnerable. Anecdote: a few years into her teaching career my wife failed a student in her senior social studies class who blew off the last quarter, which made him ineligible to graduate. He would have shipped off to boot camp the day after graduation. Instead he got arrested the day after he didn't graduate, which presumably screwed up his military plans and fundamentally altered the course of his life. His fault, to be sure, but it is the kind of thing that makes me leery of playing political games with graduation requirements.