Strange bedfellows – two words that may come to mind when considering the growing opposition movement to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that is taking place not only in North Carolina, but also across the nation.
“This issue is not Republican or Democrat or independent, it crosses all lines of politics and ideology,” asserted Lt. Gov. Dan Forest as he spoke out against the Common Core to a group of lawmakers several weeks ago who are tasked with reviewing the implementation of the CCSS, which were adopted in North Carolina in 2010 by the State Board of Education.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), developed by a group of consultants with input from governors and superintendents around the country, provide benchmarks for what students should be able to know and do in English Language Arts and mathematics. As a part of North Carolina’s transition to a more rigorous Standard Course of Study in all subject areas in 2010, State Board of Education members decided to align the state’s English and math standards with the Common Core.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards to date. The Obama administration created a strong incentive for states to adopt the standards by offering the possibility of winning lucrative Race to the Top awards. States who promised to adopt CCSS got an edge in the application process. And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed a significant amount of money to the process of developing the standards.
Those who support the standards, which includes some teachers, members of the business community, and Gov. Pat McCrory, among others, say that the Common Core is to be credited for increasing the academic rigor of instructional activities.
But opponents – ultra conservative tea partiers, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, some teachers, and some progressive education activists like Diane Ravitch – are fighting to dismantle what some see as either a government takeover of the nation’s schools or a platform for excessive testing and corporate profit.
Since the adoption of the CCSS, educators have worked hard to develop curricula that meet the standards for English language arts and mathematics. Many teachers have found working with the new standards to have a positive impact on their instruction.
Last week, lawmakers convened for the third time to review the implementation of the CCS and the impact on the state.
Karyn Dickerson, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year, explained to lawmakers at that hearing about how the CCSS have made her a better teacher.
“Because the previous standards were not as rigorous or challenging, I, like many teachers, was guilty of not pushing my lower performing students enough,” said Dickerson, who went on to explain how she began implementing teaching methodologies that she previously reserved for her AP and IB students into her instructional techniques for her lower performing students – and with great results.
“This notion of increased rigor does not mean that we are dumbing down or creating a common education for all our students,” said Dickerson. “Instead, it means that we are simply raising the floor, or the baseline for what they must achieve so that the ceiling can reach limitless heights.”
The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, which represents the voice of the business community, also supports the Common Core.
The NC Chamber’s Vice President for Government Affairs, Gary Salamido, told lawmakers, “businesses are adamant that higher standards are crucial to achieving the most confident, competitive workforce in the region, in the nation and in the world.”
Education activists like Diane Ravitch, however, may agree that higher standards are a good thing in education, but not by way of the CCSS.
Ravitch has adamantly opposed the Common Core on the basis that they were developed by a small number of people, with Gates funding, and serve as a conduit for further corporate profit.
She also opposes them for this reason:
They [the CCSS] were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.
Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.
Yet some of the most vigorous opposition to the CCSS comes from those on the far right.
Alan Hall, speaking to lawmakers last week, held a Bible in his hand as he spoke out against the Common Core.
“What is common to our core?” asked Hall, who explained that the only thing common is that “the word of God says we are evil…and we all need Jesus Christ to save us and pay for our sins.”
“It is the right and duty of the parents to choose the curriculum, not the state.” Hall said he was holding the textbook that made America great – the Holy Bible – and when we stray from that textbook, we have problems.
Sandy Simpson, a parent who has two children in Union County Public Schools, read a salacious passage from Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, which takes the reader into the mind of a pedophile. As a mom, Simpson doesn’t want her children to be forced to read what she characterized as “garbage,” and she also told lawmakers that the novel is federally mandated, and, presumably, she meant required by the CCSS.
But the Common Core standards don’t require certain books to be taught, nor is it a packaged curriculum. Morrison’s The Bluest Eye has been included in suggested texts as a part of the Common Core, but no teacher is obligated to assign the book to students.
Jennifer Strand, a parent with children in Wake County Public Schools, asked lawmakers, “do you know how many parents are having to Google so they can help their kids with first, second and third grade math? I mean, this is pretty ridiculous.” She also described instances where children have had to join test anxiety support groups.
“The only solution is a full repeal,” said Strand.
Indiana’s governor signed a law this week to opt out of the Common Core State Standards. Indiana was one of the first to adopt the standards, and now they are the first to pull out.
But the Indiana State Board of Education is tasked with developing alternative standards to CCSS, and what they have come up with reportedly looks very similar to Common Core – a move that, according to The Washington Post, several other states are moving toward as well.
That’s similar to the approach several other states are taking: Pass standards nearly identical to Common Core, but under a different name. An Oklahoma state Senate committee on Monday passed a version that would strip the Common Core name while leaving many or most of the same requirements intact.
“You’ve got these governors who understand the business argument for keeping Common Core,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think thank. “But they’ve got this tea party base that’s really fired up about this issue, so they’re trying to find a way to walk this fine line by giving voice to the tea party concerns without backing away from higher standards.”
At the national level, the business community is also gearing up to fight the perspective of tea party activists, who characterize the CCSS as a federal takeover of public schools.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other coalition members launched an ad campaign targeted toward Republicans who are unsure about Common Core, with advertisements appearing on Fox news and other conservative media outlets, according to Politico.
So what’s next for North Carolina, where conservatives are at odds with one another over the standards and some parents and teachers are fed up with its implementation?
Members of the committee tasked with reviewing CCSS must make recommendations to the General Assembly in preparation for the upcoming legislative session no later than April 25. The committee is scheduled to meet for a final time on April 24.
Will lawmakers recommend that the state opt out of the Common Core, or institute a pause in their implementation as further review takes place?
One retired teacher, Barbara Landenberg, told lawmakers last week she hopes they fix the problems associated with CCSS.
“Why are standards bad? I’ll bet your doctor has standards. I’ll bet your architect and your lawyer have standards…please, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Fix the Common Core – don’t throw it out,” said Landenberg.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or [email protected]