- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2013

The Obama administration’s cheerleading for the Common Core State Standards Initiative is designed to calm critics and rally supporters for the ambitious overhaul of the nation’s elementary and secondary school curriculums.

But that effort may be backfiring, and some analysts say it’s time for the president, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and other officials to back off or risk fueling more opposition.

Common Core, which establishes specific benchmarks for students in math, English and other subjects, is designed to align often-diverse state curriculums.

After an early rush to embrace reform, a growing number of states are pulling back from Common Core or from the tests and assessments based on the initiative.

Louisiana and Massachusetts are the latest to announce delays in tests and assessments tied to Common Core amid growing skepticism from parents and others.

Michigan and Indiana are among several states that have delayed Common Core, made adjustments to its implementation or are considering taking one or both of those steps. Four states, including Virginia, have fully rejected Common Core; Minnesota adopted only the English standards.

The backlash has been accelerated by the Obama administration, which had no role in drafting the system but has sought to latch on to the effort and take credit for higher education standards, said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

“I think it’s time for the Obama administration and Arne Duncan to take a back seat. They’ve tried to jump in and cheerlead. It’s time for the states to tell the administration that ‘we’ve got it from here,’” he said. “They think it’s a good idea, but it’s not their place or any administration’s place to be pushing states on this. It’s something that started as a state initiative and it should continue to be a state initiative.”

Opposition is growing among political activists such as tea partyers and conservative commentators including Glenn Beck. The Republican National Committee in the spring passed a resolution against Common Core, and a group of 130 prominent Catholic educators and professors recently published an open letter saying the standards threaten the “character and curriculum of the nation’s Catholic schools.”

Assigning blame

Critics contend that Common Core represents, to some degree, the loss of local control over what is taught in schools, and there is no denying that the standards didn’t come directly from the federal government.

The bipartisan National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers took the lead on the system, which has been adopted in whole or in part by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

What is equally undeniable is that the Obama administration, specifically its Education Department, has used words, actions and money to push states toward Common Core.

In its first few years, the administration tied grant money from its signature Race to the Top program to the adoption of college- and career-ready standards, similar to those found in Common Core.

Mr. Duncan has frequently spoken of the virtues of the system and has taken shots at its critics.

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