BOSTON — A group of educators and business leaders wants to block a ballot initiative that seeks to reject the Common Core, arguing that a move to abandon the educational standards would be disastrous.
The group wants a state judge to keep the referendum off the November 2016 ballot. It says the question is vaguely worded, conflicts with the state Constitution, and never should have been certified by Attorney General Maura Healey and Secretary of State Bill Galvin.
Supporters of the ballot question call the challenge weak, and say voters should decide whether to adopt Common Core.
“They’re grasping at straws right now,” said Donna Colorio, founder of Common Core Forum, a nonprofit group that is leading the campaign. “And, by doing so, they’re trying to deprive parents and taxpayers of the right to vote on this.”
In 2010, Massachusetts became one of the first states to adopt Common Core standards that spell out reading, math and critical thinking skills that students should grasp as they progress in school. The benchmarks were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with input from the state educators.
The ballot question asks voters to rescind a vote by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education five years ago to adopt Common Core for math and English. The initiative says Massachusetts should instead restore curriculum frameworks that were in place prior to that vote.
Colorio and other Common Core critics say the standards are a federal takeover of education that usurps local control.
“Common Core is a top-down educational standard,” she said. “We’re being ignored as parents and teachers.”
Supporters of Common Core say it would be complicated and costly — if not impossible, at this point — to back away from the standards because the state’s 408 school districts have spent years retraining teachers, buying new textbooks and revising their curricula around them.
“We’d be undoing the work thousands of Massachusetts educators have done in the past five years,” said Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which is advising the group, which has filed a lawsuit against Healey and Galvin in hopes of blocking the ballot question.
Noonan said many arguments against Common Core are political and largely based on misconceptions.
“There are people out there who are accepting those misconceptions and false assumptions as fact,” she said.
Robert Antonucci, a former state education commissioner and one of 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said doing away with Common Core would be a “disaster” for the state’s schools.
“Our students are doing better, and we’re seeing results,” he said. “I really would hate to see us take a step backwards.”
The ballot question’s supporters have cleared a major hurdle, turning in more than 50,000 signatures from registered voters.
State lawmakers have until May 3 to preempt the ballot question by repealing the standards through legislation, but the referendum’s supporters say they don’t expect lawmakers to take up the issue.
Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for Healey, said the attorney general certifies ballot questions based on constitutional guidelines and will cooperate with someone who wants to challenge one of its decisions.
“The most important thing is to get the right result,” she said.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and former member of the state Board of Education, has been skeptical of Common Core but hasn’t said publicly if he supports or opposes the referendum. During his 2010 campaign, Baker argued that Massachusetts would lose control by abandoning a curriculum that has made it a national leader in education.
President Barack Obama’s administration and national teacher unions back the Common Core standards in English and mathematics. So do 44 states — including Massachusetts and the others in New England.
But controversy over the standards has some states reconsidering. At least three have rejected Common Core, and more than a dozen others are considering doing the same, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The issue has become fodder in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, with GOP hopefuls speaking out against the new standards. Two years ago, the Republican National Committee adopted an anti-Common Core platform.
Noonan said other Common Core states have spent millions of dollars backing out of the standards — with little success.
“Every state that has tried to repeal the standards has wasted time and a lot of money to come up with something that isn’t as good,” she said. “Massachusetts deserves to have the best educational standards. We don’t need Common Core-lite.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.