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Arne Duncan, Maryland Teachers Talk Common Core

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is continuing his "Don't Let the Republicans Pass a Bill to Rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act That the Administration Hates" tour Wednesday, with a trio of events in deep-blue Maryland.

Earlier this month, he made stops in Annapolis, Md., and in Washington, D.C., to plead the administration's case against a House GOP NCLB bill that's slated to hit the House floor next week.

And he planned to spend Wednesday back in Maryland, which won a $250 million Race to the Top grant back in 2010. The state has an incredibly diverse population, but it's also one of the highest-achieving states in the country. (And one of the wealthiest and best-educated.) 

Duncan, along with state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery, kicked off his day with a teacher town hall at Ducketts Lane Elementary School in the Howard County Public School district. He heard a lot about teachers'—very positive—experiences with the Common Core State Standards, which they said have given them a chance to get through more academic ground in a deeper, more integrated way.

"I actually feel like we're covering more content when than we were covering before," one teacher said at the event, which was streamed online.

Duncan asked how the school is able to support the kids who don't have resources at home, particularly when it comes to technology. 

"We try to be creative, we try to use partnerships," one teacher said. "If a student might need a laptop to take home for the night, we'll give it to them." 

And Duncan wanted to know what the district is doing to "foster creativity on a daily basis." (One oft-repeated criticism of the common core is that it doesn't allow students to be creative.)

One teacher talked about how the school has been able to integrate science and art instruction. "Many times the standards are overlapping, which is beautiful," she said. 

Howard County, incidentally, is on the leading edge when it comes to implementing the common core, particularly the math standards, as my former colleague, Erik Robelen, wrote in this great story. It's also a participant in the state's Race to the Top grant. (And it's where I grew up and attended school, all the way from kindergarten up through 12 grade. Sadly, none of my former—really awesome—teachers were part of the town hall.) 

Next Steps

Later in the day, Duncan is scheduled to read books at Empowerment Academy, a middle school in Baltimore, along with the state's newly elected Republican governor, Larry Hogan.

And he's also slated to give a speech at the University of Maryland Baltimore County on the importance of local and state leadership in improving educational outcomes. He'll talk about the administration's priorities for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the NCLB law is the most recent edition.

Duncan has plenty of possible fodder for the speech.

He could talk about Maryland's experience with Race to the Top (the state won both a K-12 and early-learning grant), as well as other competitive grants (districts in Maryland, including Baltimore City, have gotten funding from the Investing in Innovation grant program, which helps finance promising practices in school districts).

The education secretary could also talk up the administration's recent report showing how much money states stand to lose if the House bill were to pass. The legislation would lock in authorization levels at fiscal year 2012 levels, which is essentially the same as the 2012-13 school year for many programs. (It's really important to note that authorization levels—which recommend how much money a program should get—are not the same thing as appropriations—which is actual spending.)

Lawmakers blow past—or fail to meet—authorization levels all the time when they appropriate funds. Still, authorization levels send an important signal about how much money Congress thinks a program should get.

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