- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2012

An influential group of conservative state lawmakers is on the verge of proposing model legislation to block the Common Core national education standards that have been heavily promoted by the Obama administration.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s board of directors, made up of two dozen state legislators from across the nation, will vote Friday on whether to recommend that states withdraw from the program, which for the first time would establish a nationwide system of academic benchmarks in mathematics and English-language arts.

The Obama administration, backed by some governors of both major political parties, has pushed the Common Core curriculum, as part of its own education reform agenda. The legislative exchange council’s vote could provide a gauge of rising conservative sentiment against the Common Core curriculum idea.

“There was very little public debate about Common Core when it was presented to the states. Especially in the area of academic content, it seems as though states were seriously misled,” said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a California free-market think tank and one of a handful of organizations leading the growing charge against Common Core.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, which are set to go into effect by 2014. There will be no across-the-board curricula, but rather specific expectations of what students should know at each grade level.

Only Alaska, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia have resisted Common Core, but other states that have agreed to the program — developed by governors and state education leaders — are changing their minds.

Backed by Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, lawmakers in South Carolina are pushing legislation that would withdraw their state from the system. Conservative think tanks and research groups are urging other states to do the same.

As more officials take a second look at Common Core, some are coming to the conclusion that the standards aren’t the common-sense measures that they are advertised to be, but instead represent giving up state and local control over schools.

“Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states,” Mrs. Haley wrote in a letter expressing her opposition to Common Core. “I firmly believe that our government and our people should retain as much local control over programs as possible. … Our children deserve swift action and the passage of a clean resolution that will allow our state to reclaim control of and responsibility for educating South Carolinians.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan responded by calling Mrs. Haley’s take on Common Core “a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy” and noted that the standards have garnered strong support from many high-profile Republicans. Govs. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Chris Christie of New Jersey and others have enthusiastically backed them.

Several right-leaning research groups, such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a leading D.C. education think tank, also have come out in support of Common Core, arguing that the standards would represent an improvement of learning thresholds in many states.

But what began as a states-led effort is now being pushed by the Obama administration, and its involvement appears to be a serious turnoff for some Republicans.

“The Obama administration doesn’t make it easier when it goes around touting their involvement in this,” said Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute. “There is the concern about federal intrusion. [Some worry] that it’s part of a greater pattern of the federal government telling states what to do on education, health care” and other issues.

Education Department initiatives over the past two years have directly tied funding and other perks to states’ adoption of Common Core. The administration’s signature education program Race to the Top, for example, gave extra points to states that planned to take part in it.

The Education Department also is offering waivers from the unpopular, decade-old No Child Left Behind Act, and any state that wishes to get out from under its mandates must implement the standards.

But those standards, supporters argue, mark a huge step in the right direction. The Fordham Institute in 2010 produced a report stating that Common Core contains higher thresholds in math than the current benchmarks in 39 states. In English, Common Core would represent an improvement in 37 states, the institute said.

While the American Legislative Exchange Council’s vote won’t directly change anything with respect to Common Core, it will serve as a strong indication of which way the wind is blowing. The organization’s education task force has passed a resolution urging states to withdraw from the system and proposing model legislation to help them do so.

“The ALEC board has an important decision to make,” said Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, a Washington state think tank. “At stake is whether government responds to the people or to other interests.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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