Sunday, March 9, 2014
By MARK NIQUETTE and ANNIE LINSKEY/Bloomberg News
AUGUSTA - Three months after Republican Paul LePage became Maine's governor in 2011, he signed a law adopting the Common Core standards to better prepare students for college or careers.
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center in 2012. “I don’t believe in Common Core,” LePage said in a recent interview. “I believe in raising the standards in education.”
The Associated Press
Since then, the program to which he gave his imprimatur has become the focus of tea party anger. While LePage isn't stopping implementation of the standards, he now disavows them.
"I don't believe in Common Core," LePage said in a recent interview. "I believe in raising the standards in education."
LePage's contortions reflect the politicization of Common Core benchmarks, developed to regularize and improve education across the nation. After 46 states adopted and are implementing the standards in math and language arts, some are balking amid concerns that the federal government may be taking over.
Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin this year halted or delayed implementation, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
Republicans control the governor's office and the legislature in all of those places. Twenty-six bills across 11 states related to Common Core are pending, the NCSL said.
In Maine, Common Core opponents say they will collect the 57,277 signatures needed to put a referendum on the November 2014 ballot. Debate about benchmarks and testing "will continue to be a big conversation" throughout the nation, said Michelle Exstrom, education program director at the NCSL.
Common Core's standards for kindergarten through high school were finalized in June 2010 by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, according to corestandards.org. Only Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia didn't approve them, the NCSL said.
They were a response to U.S. graduates falling behind those in other countries. The nation ranked 14th among 37 countries in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with higher education after being a world leader a generation ago, according to a 2012 report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Only 39 percent of 2013 high-school graduates who took the ACT standardized test met three or more of four college-readiness benchmarks, and 31 percent met none, ACT Inc., a non-profit based in Iowa City, Iowa, said in an Aug. 21 statement.
Opposition to Common Core increased this year after commentators Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin criticized it and the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution April 12 opposing it as "a nationwide straitjacket." Malkin described it on her blog as "the stealthy federal takeover of school curriculum and standards."
The federal government offered states financial incentives to adopt the standards and helped fund the two consortiums that created national tests, said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington education-policy group that promotes "standards-based reforms."
Even so, the common standards are better than what most states had, he said.
"There are legitimate reasons to worry about federal overreach, and it's certainly true that the federal government has been involved with the Common Core," Petrilli said. "For me, those concerns are outweighed by all the positives."
The benchmarks are not as rigorous as they should be, will cost too much to implement, and states shouldn't adopt "one- size-fits all" guidelines, said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based research group that promotes limited government.
"For some states, it's a step up," Stergios said. "For some states, it's a wash. And for some states, it's a step down. It's codifying mediocre standards across the country."
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