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UPDATED: U.S. Ed Secretary Lambastes S.C. Anti-Common-Core Push

Remember that bill we told you about yesterday in South Carolina? The one that would block implementation of the common standards? The one that got voted down in a state Senate subcommittee, but was still going to move on to the full education committee anyway?

News of its progress zapped up to Washington, where none other than U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement that appears designed to dismantle support for the proposed legislation, S. 604.

Duncan takes a swipe at some of its supporters for seeing the common standards as a conspiracy, and invokes the names of Republican leaders who support the standards. He takes a swipe at South Carolina itself, too, saying that the state was particularly egregious in lowering its own performance standards for students.

This morning, the state's superintendent of education, Mick Zais, issued a statement agreeing with Duncan's accusation that South Carolina watered down its expectations for students. [UPDATE (2:15 p.m.)] In a statement to the local news media yesterday, Zais said he is opposed to the common standards, but will "faithfully" implement them, as decided by the state board of education, unless lawmakers reverse that decision.

It will be interesting to see what further effects Duncan's move will have on the debate in South Carolina. As we mentioned yesterday, Gov. Nikki Haley supports the bill to block the standards.

One of the strains of the common-standards dialogue most often cited by skeptics and opponents is the federal overreach argument. They note the incentives in the Race of the Top program for state adoption of the common core, and the federal investment in state consortia to design tests for the standards. With the No Child Left Behind waiver program in full swing, they also note another round of federal incentives to buy into common standards and assessments: the chance to get out from under some of NCLB's toughest requirements. (See a recent white paper on this.)

Where the bill goes from here will prove worth watching. The subcommittee could have killed it, but also had the option of allowing it to move to the full committee with an unfavorable recommendation, Sally Cauthen, the K-12 research director for the South Carolina Senate education committee, told me. That's what it did.

Stay tuned.

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