Protests widen against Obama-backed Common Core education reforms

Parents, teachers want local control

A fierce battle in New York is the latest sign that populist resistance to the Obama administration-backed Common Core education reforms shows no signs of slowing — and that the opposition isn’t limited to red states.

Since 2010, 45 states have adopted the Common Core benchmarks for proficiency in English and math for schoolchildren at the end of each grade.

Critics say several states are experiencing buyers’ remorse after complaints from parents and scholars that the reforms are untested and poorly designed and put additional burdens on teachers and students. They also say Common Core represents a federal government intrusion into an area traditionally operated at the state and local levels.

Common Core, backed by $4.35 billion offered to states through President Obama’s 2009 stimulus, appeared to be overcoming opposition when it was implemented.

Now, however, backlash has been gaining force. Blogger Michele Zipp of The Stir last week said Common Core “is kind of turning into the Obamacare of education.”

Common Core opponents have organized a social media campaign to make Monday a “National Don’t Send Your Child to School Day” and have planned protests at local education administration buildings. A Facebook page for protesters had more than 5,500 supporters by Sunday.

Opposition to Common Core has been roiling in recent weeks since New York state Education Commissioner John King conducted a series of meetings that highlighted deep concerns about the reforms.

“We are abusing the children in the state of New York,” Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Parent Teacher Association, said at a forum last week at Ward Melville High School, according to an account on Patch.com.

Lana Ajemian, the head of New York’s Parent Teacher Association, said standards have moved far too quickly for students to keep up. “It’s like the train’s pulling out of the station without everybody on board,” Ms. Ajemian told NBC New York during the public forum on Long Island.

Conservative education scholars have led opposition to Common Core reforms, but the resistance appears to have taken the Obama administration and the education establishment by surprise. The bipartisan National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have led state-by-state adoption of the standards.

“Development of these standards was not driven by the federal government, but by the states,” wrote Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “Governors on both sides of the aisle, the business community, and most importantly educators, came together to ensure one thing: that students learn what they need to live a successful life in a 21st century global economy.”

Although adoption of Common Core was voluntary, states that rejected the standards were considered effectively ineligible for federal stimulus funds tied to President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.

The four states that have rejected Common Core completely are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. Minnesota has accepted the English standards but not the math standards.

But much of the energy in recent months has come from opponents, who include an unusually broad mix of scholars, teachers, parents and state legislators.

In one of the first signs of resistance, the Republican National Committee unexpectedly adopted a resolution opposing Common Core. At its spring meeting, the RNC called Common Core an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal.’”

Under pressure from parents, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, sent a letter last month informing Education Secretary Arne Duncan that his state was leaving Common Core, citing a “federal intrusion in education policy.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also a Republican, signed the Common Core Pause Bill this year to allow deliberation among state agencies until a consensus could be reached on governmental education.

In a move that sparked sharp debate within the American church, a group of 132 respected Catholic scholars and educators released an open letter last week calling on U.S. bishops to block the Common Core standards from being imposed on the Catholic Church’s extensive network of parochial schools.

“We believe that, notwithstanding the good intentions of those who made these decisions, Common Core was approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools ,” the letter said. “In fact, we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.”

Other states, including Alabama, have mixed feelings about Common Core.

“I am adamantly opposed to Common Core, and I hope the Legislature will do something about it,” state Sen. Scott Beason, Gardendale Republican, said last week. “There are some people who would like to avoid it one way or another. But I believe it’s one of the biggest issues facing the Republican Party, and this is a red state.”

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