Legislative panel wants Common Core stopped

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:10 PM

Republican lawmakers sound ready to separate North Carolina from the nationally developed K-12 academic standards after complaints from parents, think tanks and other groups that Common Core requirements are controlling curriculum and classrooms.

A General Assembly study committee Thursday recommended colleagues pass a law directing the State Board of Education to replace the Common Core standards for math and language arts with something else, with input from a proposed standards commission. The alterations could cause conflict with Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina Chamber — both have praised Common Core.

More than 40 states have accepted the standards, but some states are thinking twice now as critics say the standards tie the hands of educators on how and what they teach.

"We have to have some standards. We've determined we need something other than Common Core," said Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes and a committee co-chairman.

The state board in 2010 approved Common Core, which was developed by the National Governors Association and state education superintendents to detail what students should be able to accomplish at every grade level. The idea is to bring state-to-state consistency in what students learn with higher standards. North Carolina used Common Core for the first time in the 2012-13 school year.

Common Core has struck a chord largely among conservative activists who consider its acceptance tantamount to giving up local control. Speakers at a public hearing last month overwhelmingly opposed the standards, often pointing to optional curriculum recommendations, such as for books, they said were inappropriate for young people.

The federal government has not required Common Core, but states approving it had a better chance to obtain federal Race to the Top Grants.

"I care about protecting North Carolina's sovereignty and the people are not led down a path that the federal government wants to take us," said Glenn Fink of New Bern and a leader of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association.

The draft legislation, which would still need House and Senate approval and clear Gov. Pat McCrory's desk for passage, would direct the State Board of Education to halt further implementation of Common Core as of July 1. The legislature reconvenes May 14.

A 17-member Academic Standards Review Commission would present its recommendations by the end of 2015. The current Common Core standards would be used in the meantime, but the bill would allow the commission to make short-term findings earlier so the state board could make changes.

"I don't want us to be bound to them any longer than we have to," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

Some committee members worried that interim findings would only confuse educators and parents even more after three years of preparations for Common Core. Former school administrator Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, also said the effort would politicize the standards.

"This is a bad way to do policy," said Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth. "I think what we're doing here today is wrong." But Republicans defended the process and said it puts education policy back in the state's hands.

The North Carolina Chamber, which spoke up for the standards at a public hearing, said Thursday it opposed the recommended legislation because of the standards after July 1 are uncertain.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, a Democrat, questioned whether refining the standards would be any better than Common Core. In an interview, she said North Carolina already has spent $22 million on preparing teachers for it.

"It is unnecessary to put uncertainty on the backs of teachers when there are already many challenges that our teachers would face," Atkinson said. She said later the state should stick to its five-year cycle for academic standards, now in its second year.

Durham Public Schools Board of Education members cautioned against throwing out the standards, despite email messages from citizens urging them to support the effort to eliminate Common Core.

“I want our parents to understand that Common Core is the bottom,” said Minnie Forte-Brown, vice chair of the DPS board. “It is the minimum standard that every district in the United States should have adopted so children in Mississippi should have the same education as a child in Boston, Massachusetts.”

Heidi Carter, the DPS board chair, said the district has spent a lot of money implementing Common Core.

“It would feel like having the rug pulled out from under you to have to change now,” she said. “I think those standards can work fine. The important thing is for teachers to provide excellent instruction around those standards.”