STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. The new education standards called Common Core are rolling out in 45 states and the District of Columbia, and they're getting plenty of feedback. Supporters say Common Core standards will hold American students to much higher expectations, that's the idea.
But there is a backlash to Common Core. Conservatives and liberals alike are increasingly voicing similar concerns. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: The mainstream business wing of the Republican Party strongly backs the Common Core, arguing that raising standards is vital to creating the next-generation American workforce. But in an echo of the rifts in the GOP nationally, the Tea Party branch of the GOP has been the most vocal passionate critic of the new standards.
Conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck has led the push. On his show "The Blaze," he often charges that Common Core will undermine student individuality, teacher autonomy, and mark a dangerous takeover of local control by federal bureaucrats pushing a leftist agenda.
GLENN BECK: This is a progressive bonanza, and if it's allowed to be in our schools in any form and become the Common Core of America's next generation, it will destroy America and the system of freedom as we know it.
WESTERVELT: But while some conservative activists have long slammed the standards, a new development is underway. A small but growing number of liberal reformists actually agree with them on some of the key criticisms. Although they're loathe to admit it, both sides dovetail in worrying that the standards take a one-size-fits-all approach, create a de facto national curriculum, and put too much emphasis on standardized tests.
STAN KARP: It's fundamentally flawed because it was fundamentally undemocratic in the way that it was defined, rolled out, financed.
WESTERVELT: That's Stan Karp. He taught high school English for 30 years in Patterson, New Jersey. He's now with Education Law Center and the liberal reform group Rethinking Schools. He sees Common Core as the ideological stepchild of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind: Another high-stakes testing program, he says, imposed from Washington with big help from wealthy foundations and little help from teachers, parents and local communities.
KARP: This is a set of standards that does not reflect the experience of many groups of students served by public education, does not reflect the concerns that many parents have for what they want to see in their education, and that really doubles down on a testing-and-punish regime.
WESTERVELT: Both of these segments of the left and right say Common Core represents an end-run around federal prohibition about adopting a national curriculum. And both argue that the new standards were not really state-driven. They say the Obama administration all but forced them into it by requiring states to adopt new standards to be eligible for billions in federal grant money.
Anthony Cody taught for nearly 20 years at a high-poverty middle school in Oakland, California. He's co-founder of the liberal reform group Network for Public Education. He sees growing common-ground opposition to Common Core.
ANTHONY CODY: From the conservative side, there is an understanding of the dangers of standardization. And there is, from sort of a Libertarian perspective, there's suspicion of government control of what students learn that really resonates with me as a teacher that wants some autonomy. I don't want to be so tied to filling their heads with this predetermined list of things.
WESTERVELT: Advocates of the Common Core reject the notion they'll create a national curriculum. They point out teachers can pick their own materials as long as students know what the Core ask them to know by the end of the school year. The new standards, they argue, will do a lot to promote critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving while raising the bar on what every student should know.
DANE LINN: I would encourage your listeners to take a hard look at the standards before they start believing some of the critics.
WESTERVELT: That's Dane Linn, vice president for education and workforce at the Business Roundtable. With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the roundtable is rolling out a new national ad campaign to support the Common Core. Linn worked on the standards when he directed the education policy arm of the National Governors Association. He says the idea they're a stalking horse for federal intrusion into local education is ludicrous.
LINN: I was at that first meeting in Chicago with the state's governor's offices, state superintendents of schools, members of state boards of education. It was a state decision. Clearly, some of those critics of the standards have chosen to base their arguments on fallacies about both the development of the standards and the intention of the standards.
WESTERVELT: Meantime, many public school teachers feel caught in the middle as they work to train up on and implement the new standards. Megan Franke is an education professor at UCLA.
MEGAN FRANKE: I guess my worry - my big, big worry is that we're not going to support people. And then we're going to say: See, the Common Core doesn't work.
WESTERVELT: All of this means all is not right in Common Core land. At the very least, the standards have a serious image problem. Tea Party conservatives, calling it ObamaCore, are planning a big march on Washington this summer to oppose the new standards. But the growing number of liberal critics of Common Core aren't likely to join hands with them and march. They fundamentally disagree on how to reform public education and are alienated by the marchers' other calls to abolish teacher tenure and the Federal Education Department.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, San Francisco.