The movement started with stomachaches. Every night in the spring of 2012, a third-grader from North Bellmore, N.Y., would sob as he hunched over math worksheets. In the mornings he would beg to stay home. Jeanette Deutermann, the boy’s mother, diagnosed the ailment as anxiety over new standardized tests. She did some homework of her own and didn’t like what she learned about the curriculum changes or the emphasis on tougher testing. So she decided her son wouldn’t take the tests. “I was kind of ground zero,” says Deutermann, who is known on Long Island as the mother of the movement to opt out of the Empire State’s new exams.
Soon there were pockets of panicked parents scattered throughout New York. On Facebook they swapped tales of impenetrable homework and once enthusiastic students turned sullen and scared by the intensive work needed to prepare for tougher benchmarks they were suddenly being measured against. The culprit, parents argued, was the Common Core–a landmark push to bolster and synchronize U.S. education standards for English and math.
This was a laudable goal. The U.S. lags behind its global counterparts in educational achievement. So in 2010, when the National Governors Association and a team of educators unveiled a new set of standards designed to better prepare students for college and careers, 45 states quickly signed on. Common Core was hailed as that rare bipartisan jewel. “We were told this was a new curriculum that would raise standards and go deeper. Who could object to such a thing?” says Joseph Rella, a district superintendent on Long Island. “But the devil is in the details, and the details are horrible.”