In 2010, Michigan's State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards benchmarks in reading, writing and math, which 44 other states have adopted. The standards, developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, are designed to provide clear goals for teachers, boost student performance and allow for educational cooperation and comparison among states.
But some Michigan lawmakers and residents say the standards could lead to a federal takeover of the state's education system by stripping power away from the Legislature and school districts to make decisions about what goes on in the classroom.
Rep. Tom McMillin, a Rochester Hills Republican, is backing legislation that would prohibit the state from implementing the standards and the test that goes with them. Meanwhile, the state House recently passed a budget bill for the Department of Education that includes language blocking the department from spending money on developing and implementing the standards. A budget passed in the Senate includes similar language.
That could change in the coming days as lawmakers work to approve the final budget. Jan Ellis, the department's spokeswoman, said in an email that they will "continue to work with both the House and Senate to build better understanding of the importance of the Common Core Standards for the students and the future of Michigan."
Snyder recently defended the standards during a visit with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, calling them a "really important opportunity" for Michigan.
"Unfortunately, it's been too much about politics," he said. "It's being viewed as the federal government putting another mandate on us ... it was the governors of the states getting together ... to say we want a partner at the national level and all levels to say, 'Let's raise the bar.'"
Meanwhile, many teachers in Michigan schools are beginning to use the benchmarks. The goal is for all districts to use the standards by the beginning of next school year.
"This train has already left the station," said Michael Yocum, executive director of learning services for Oakland Schools, the county's intermediate school district. "We are so far down the road now." Yocum is overseeing the implementation of the standards throughout the county's school districts.
One of the biggest changes the standards will bring is a greater focus on writing, he said. He said teachers using the standards in Oakland County are pleased with gains they've seen.
In math, students will learn fewer topics each year but go more in-depth. The goal is for students to master a topic, instead of repeating it every year, said William Schmidt, a professor and co-director of Michigan State University's Education Policy Center. In middle school, students will learn more algebra and geometry, rather than just arithmetic. Research Schmidt conducted on educational systems in the top achieving countries was used as the basis for the Common Core math standards.
The fight against Common Core has sprouted up in legislatures across the country, from Alabama, to Utah. In Indiana, lawmakers recently passed a proposal to halt the full implementation of the standards until they can study the costs and hold public meetings. While some states have chosen not to adopt the standards, no states have successfully banned them. But opponents say they have momentum.
"You're seeing the bubbling up of something that's not going away," McMillin said.
Melanie Kurdys, an education advocate and former local district board member, is one of the people leading the charge against Common Core in Michigan. She and other opponents recently spent a day at the Capitol urging lawmakers to stop the standards.
"Of course, the Michigan Department of Education has a role, but really the Michigan Constitution calls for parents to have the primary responsibility for the education of their children," Kurdys said. "So by cutting the Legislature out of this process, you really have cut the parents out of the picture."
President Barack Obama's administration wasn't involved in creating the standards but encouraged their adoption by tying the standards to some Race to the Top funding, which some view as the federal government trying to mandate a national curriculum.
"The law says the federal government cannot dictate the curriculum," McMillin said.
Snyder's administration is fighting back. In an email to reporters in response to an op-ed McMillin wrote attacking Common Core, education department spokesman Martin Ackley said the State Board of Education is elected by a statewide vote and represents Michigan citizens.
Supporters say that the benchmarks will provide consistency, ensuring that all students — no matter where they live — have the same learning opportunities.
"Why should what mathematics our children study vary by district?" Schmidt said. "Why should Lansing's math coverage be any different from New York City and Los Angeles?"
That will allow Michigan students to be better tested against their peers in other states, he said. It also will mean that teachers across the country can share ideas on improving student performance, he said.
"In so many ways, the opposition seems more concerned about ideological issues, the kinds of games adults play," Schmidt said, "and less about the impact of this for our children, our kids."