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Parents, legislators push back against Common Core

Students with hands raised in classroom
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New standardized tests under the Common Core education initiative aren't scheduled until spring, but backlash from parents and educators is in full force this fall. And the debate is moving into the state legislatures.

States' adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a set of K-12 learning standards designed to measure students' college and career readiness, has been met with resistance.

"We don't like them," said parent advocate Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit organization that advocates for smaller classes in public schools. "We don't trust them, and we don't think they're helping our kids learn at all."

Since the initiative—which is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officersbegan promoting the standards in 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on. But those numbers have been dropping. "Opposition has grown, and not even along political lines, but against the standards," said Philip Gorham, a senior equity analyst for Morningstar. (Gorham's coverage area includes education publisher Pearson, which won a contract to administer Common Core standardized tests.)

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Earlier this year, Indiana and Oklahoma withdrew, opting to replace Common Core with their own standards, while South Carolina legislators passed a similar bill dropping the standards this year, and requiring the adaptation of new standards for the 2015-16 school year. Similar bills are in play in Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Louisiana. Last week, two Tennessee senators filed a bill to drop Common Core in favor of standards from a not-yet-created education commission. And just this week, a West Virginia delegate said there could be enough votes in that state's legislature to repeal the standards.

Spring standardized tests will be significant both as a gauge of the effect of state implementation and parental backlash, said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an economic studies think tank. Analysts will be watching for any issues related to the online testing format, as well as the content. "This spring is a pivotal time," he said. "Any effective boycott of the test or effective opt-out of the tests could really hurt."

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In New York, which administered the new Common Core-aligned tests for the second time this year, an estimated 55,000 to 60,000 students opted out, according to the state education department. (One oft-used loophole is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which limits the collection of personal information from children under age 13.) Haimson, who is also a co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said advocates are hoping for 100,000-plus opt-outs in New York this year. "It's really the only thing parents can do at this point," she said.

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Backlash or not, parents aren't likely to be happy with the test results. "It is widely anticipated that the scores on the test, at least the first time around, are going to be pretty low," Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational policy think tank. "These are meant to be much tougher tests." But that's a good thing, he said—many of the current standardized tests "give false information" about whether kids are performing at grade level.

"This is going to be a dose of reality," Petrilli said. "People are trying to prepare parents and taxpayers for that."