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Clash over Common Core: Opposition grows as national education standards approach

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Proponents say Common Core will help establish national education standards, but critics believe it will mean the end of local control of education. (AP)

Erika Russell, a mother of four from Maine, had no intention of embroiling herself in the fight over Common Core.

As she put it, “I sent my kids to public school, so I wouldn't have to worry about what they’re learning.”

Then her then-9-year-old, second-grade daughter returned home from school one day in January of 2012 with a frown.

“She asked me, ‘Mom, Can you home school me?’ I said, ‘What about your friends?’ and she just told me she would see them at sports. Then, I knew something was wrong and I should start looking into this.”

Over the next 18 months, the 36-year-old Russell, who resides in Sidney in the central part of the state, helped found “No Common Core Maine,” a coalition of concerned parents, educators and activists– and one of a growing number of organizations nationwide who have made it their mission to stop Common Core's implementation.

“My kid was honestly concerned, and I thought if a second-grader was concerned, maybe I should start paying attention. And you know what? The more I looked into it, like all things that are sinister, it’s packed in a nice, little box with a pretty little bow on top, but once you untie the bow, and start unpacking these so-called federal educational standards, you realize it’s all a pack of a lies.”

“There’s a huge fear over this, and I don’t think they thought about these kids when crafting these standards."

- Gretchen Logue, mother of a hearing impaired student

What Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed in 2010 as a “quiet revolution” in American education has metastasized into a full-blown battle now being waged in Congress and state houses and at school board meetings, rallies and classrooms around the country.

So far, some 46 states have adopted Common Core State Standards Initiative – a federally-backed set of educational standards promoted, in part, through the promise of millions of dollars in so-called "Race to the Top" grants to those states willing to accept them. Altogether, the standards seek to ensure students throughout the nation are learning the same things, at the same pace. The plan was devised in 2007 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and has been enthusiastically embraced by the Obama administration.

"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them," states the initiative's website. "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

Beginning in 2014, students in grades 3-8 an in either 10th or 11th grade will take standardized tests to determine their proficiency in Math and English Language Arts.

As full implementation approaches and more parents and lawmakers learn what the program entails, opposition has swelled. Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia and Texas all declined to adopt the standards. Several other states, including Indiana and Michigan, initially signed on only to drop out under public or legislative pressure. Lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Maine and South Dakota are all pressing their states to either drop out completely or at least dial back their involvement with the standards, in some cases by not administering the tests.

In Maine, Erick Bennett of the Maine Equal Rights Center told FoxNews.com he is now awaiting the arrival of petitions from local printers he says will almost assuredly convey the 57,277 signatures required to place an anti-Common Core referendum on his state’s November 2014 ballot – what is expected to be the first of several such popular votes, nationwide, in response to the uniform, federal educational standards.

“We held a well-attended press conference Aug. 21 outside the governor’s office in Augusta to kick off this campaign,” he said. “I’m now setting up a series of town hall meetings across the state and a schedule of press releases. At this time, it’s a matter of public relations and getting the word out.”

In Alabama, the State Legislature in 2012 passed a resolution calling for the state Board of Education to repeal already-adopted Common Core standards, and as late as last month, two public forums on the topic – held in Birmingham and Huntsville - drew a combined crowd easily in excess of 1,200 people.

“The meetings were held on Friday and Saturday nights with little advertising, and I’ll tell you that people came away very motivated,” State School Board member Stephanie Bell told FoxNews.com. “People were concerned. They’re just finding out about Common Core and they’re unhappy about what is happening in their children’s classrooms.”

Dozens of websites like “Floridians Against Common Core,” “Idahoans for Local Education,” and “Keep Education Local,” – to name just a few - have sprung up, seemingly overnight, to join the fight. And Facebook – and social media, at large - has become an active front, as well, with groups claiming wacky names like, “Badass Parents Association” and “Badass Teachers Association” documenting each-and-every lurch in adoption of Common Core standards, nationwide.

“This is the hottest issue at the grassroots level in America today," Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Alton, Ill., -based conservative think take Eagle Forum, told FoxNews.com. "And I describe it as just coming out of the woodwork. All of a sudden, there are meetings and rallies around the nation of concerned parents, moms and dads. They are seeing de facto federal control of what their kids are going to learn and not learn in the classroom, and they don’t like it.”

Betty Peters, Bell’s colleague on the Alabama State Board of Education, who twice voted against adoption of Common Core, was among the first to take to the Internet in opposition of the standards.

“It’s an old-fashioned, grassroots movement,” Peters told FoxNews.com. “From the beginning, and I was not unique in coming to this conclusion, Common Core is not about educational standards.

“It’s like a magician: In the right hand, he’s holding these sparkling uniform standards that will purportedly level the playing field. But in his left hand and behind his back, he’s holding the other components of this total education initiative. If it were simply standards, it would just be unconstitutional, but not horrible. But it’s so much more, and it’s the so much more that is truly horrible.”

Gretchen Logue, the 55-year-old, St. Louis mother of a hearing impaired student, started the blog, “Missouri Education Watchdog,” three years ago, and then in 2012 co-founded, “The Missouri Coalition against Common Core.” She says there is great uncertainty over whether Common Core will make the same provisions for learning disabled students as currently in-place standards.  

“There are a lot of children who aren't common, who have special needs or who are gifted, or both. And Common Core raised a lot of red flags for me,” she told FoxNews.com. “There’s a huge fear over this, and I don’t think they thought about these kids when crafting these standards.

Added Logue: “If you look at a deaf child, their language development traditionally lags that of a typical child’s. And you had to adapt. Now, with Common Core, these kids might have to adapt to the standards. Who knows! It’s like a black-hole, and there are no specifics and it’s a huge concern for parents of special-needs kids. How in the world are you going to have common, uniform standards that will address the needs of such a varied population of students.”

In the months following Russell’s strange exchange with her then-9-year-old second-grader, she says she removed three of her four children - one now attends college - out of public schools in favor of a local, private Christian academy. She told FoxNews.com Common Core – and what she says is its purportedly hidden agenda- motivated her to do so.

“It’s a violation of privacy,” she said, echoing both Bell and Peters’ concerns. “The government will tell you there is no central database that is part-and-parcel of Common Core, but that’s an outright lie. They’re tracking over 400 data points, from parents’ political and religious affiliations to how much money they make, what the child eats, behaviors and attitudes toward sex…everything. It’s Orwellian. I had my eyes closed to this and I didn’t believe any of it until I saw for myself.”

Russell says she is now barnstorming her state – and notably local school board meetings - with fellow No Common Core Maine members to educate parents, teachers and school administrators on Common Core issues.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I’m not some crazed woman,” she added. “But we’re leading our kids right into communism.

"You have them choosing their career path by middle school and you have standards that every child is going to learn the same thing the exact, same way, no matter who they are as individuals, or what they bring in terms of ability. Children are not common. People are not common. They are unique. And that’s not what Common Core is about.”

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