Maine adopted the Common Core education standards about two years ago to relatively little reaction. Since then, though, critics have assailed the standards, and with a drive under way to put an initiative repealing the standards on the 2014 ballot, the debate will only grow in intensity.

The controversy could be defused by leaders who are willing to hear people out and debunk any misapprehensions. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening in Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage has presented a mixed message about the Common Core standards’ overall value.

The Common Core spells out exactly what students in each grade should know, whether it’s the coordinate system in fifth-grade math or the Gettysburg Address in freshman English. In Maine, the rollout of the standards is being overseen by local education officials, not state ones.

The federal government didn’t create the Common Core, and it doesn’t require that states adopt it. Nonetheless, critics have blasted the Common Core as a federal takeover of local education.

LePage on Wednesday issued an executive order reaffirming that the federal government has no role in setting Maine learning standards, obviously trying to appease the Common Core’s tea party and small-government opponents. A leader of the ballot initiative, however, says the drive will continue.

Also, in an interview with Bloomberg News last week, LePage is quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in Common Core. I believe in raising the standards in education.” Mainers are left to wonder whether the governor really supports the new benchmarks.

Common Core standards are meant to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for a job or for college — a significant matter in Maine, where young people’s college and workplace readiness has long been an issue. They are also uniform, making it possible to directly compare how kids in one state stack up against students in other states.

One of government’s core responsibilities is providing public school students with an education that will enable them to succeed in later life. We need leaders who will clarify what these standards are and what they can do, not just add to the abundant misinformation that’s already out there.

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