At the final hearing of a committee tasked with studying the Common Core State Standards, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) didn’t mince words when introducing proposed legislation that would seek to eliminate the Common Core.
“If you adopt national standards, that triggers everything else,” said Tillman. “It triggers your test, it triggers your textbook, and it triggers your teaching methods. If you believe in Common Core, they own it all, and North Carolina owns nothing…I’m more upset about taking education out of our hands and putting it in the hands of conglomerate states.”
“That day is over,” he added.
After months of hearings at which committee members heard impassioned arguments both supporting and opposing the Common Core standards in North Carolina, some lawmakers have decided to move forward with abolishing it in favor of home grown alternatives.
Replacing the Common Core
The proposed legislation, titled “Replace Common Core to Meet NC’s Needs,” would repeal the law that directs the State Board of Education to participate in the development of Common Core standards and implement related assessments. It would also replace standards named “Common Core” with “North Carolina Standard Course of Study.”
The Common Core State Standards were developed by a group of consultants with input from governors and superintendents around the country. The standards 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 more rigorous standards 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 also adopted CCSS.
In addition to halting the implementation of the CCSS and renaming the Common Core, the proposed legislation also establishes a commission, which would be under the Department of Administration, to review English and math standards and recommend alternatives that are more in line with North Carolina’s needs to the State Board of Education. State Board members would be required to consult with the commission as they implement changes, under this law.
Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) amended the draft legislation in the committee to allow the commission to fast track its recommendations, which means some elements of the Common Core could be nixed as early as this summer. Otherwise, the commission has until December 2015 to issue a final set of recommendations.
The effect on schools at the start of the 2014-15 school year had some lawmakers scratching their heads as they considered the possibility of the draft bill becoming law during the short session that begins this May.
“This commission that we’re talking about is not required to meet before September 1,” said Sen. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth) “In the meantime, school will have started…what standards will all the school districts be operating on on the first day of school?”
“They will operate under the standards we have today,” said Rep. Brian Holloway (R-Stokes), who acknowledged that that would mean Common Core standards for English and mathematics would remain in place as the commission considered alternatives.
But Holloway’s statement conflicted with an earlier one from Sen. Tillman.
“Common Core is gone July 1,” said Tillman. “If this [the bill] passes, it is gone.”
Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) raised concerns about North Carolina turning its back on the Common Core.
“I’m concerned this…will create classroom chaos,” said Cotham. “And I am frustrated and concerned about all the resources that have already gone into Common Core.”
As a part of its application for the $400 million Race to the Top federal grant that North Carolina received, the state promised to align its standards with the Common Core, which gave it an edge in competition. Reneging on that promise could have financial repercussions for the state as it has spent the bulk of that grant already, in part on developing Common Core standards.
Cotham was also worried about how the establishment of a commission could gut the power of the State Board of Education when it comes to deciding on academic standards. While the State Board of Education makes the final determination in implementing changes to academic standards, the bill would require them to consult with the review commission that would comprise political appointees.
“We know it’s not the final say with the State Board [of Education]…we [the General Assembly] can intervene and then change the recommendations of the State Board. That is scary because it is politicizing curriculum and school standards,” said Cotham.
Rep. Craig Horn, who ultimately supported the bill, also had reservations.
“My concern is policy whiplash. An interim report could send us in one direction, and a later report in another direction,” said Horn, who concluded that if the review commission could be allowed to fast track policy recommendations, that could be a huge problem for educators trying to determine what standard to which they should teach from one month to the next.
The path forward
Fifteen states have already introduced legislation to repeal or replace the Common Core State Standards, according to Education Week.
Those who support the Common Core, including some teachers, members of the business community, State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson as well as Gov. Pat McCrory, among others, say that the Common Core is to be credited for increasing the academic rigor of instructional activities, even though many acknowledge its implementation has been bungled and state budget cuts have hampered schools’ ability to properly resource teachers who must shift their curricula to accommodate CCSS.
Opponents that include ultra conservative tea partiers like Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, as well as House Speaker Thom Tillis, some teachers, and some progressive education activists like Diane Ravitch – are fighting to take down what some see as either a government takeover of the nation’s schools or a platform for excessive testing and corporate profit.
Over the past several months, the committee that met for a final time today heard from many supporters and opponents of the Common Core.
Karyn Dickerson, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year, explained to lawmakers last month 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.
But 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.
Last month, Indiana became the first state to officially opt out of the Common Core. Although Indiana was one of CCSS’ first adopters, Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence signed a law that banishes Common Core, but doesn’t prohibit adoption of academic standards that look very similar to CCSS.
New York has taken a different approach – their General Assembly instituted a two-year delay in using Common Core-aligned assessments in teacher evaluations.
Rep. Horn said he struggled with the Common Core issue from the beginning.
“But we allowed the CCSS to be hijacked by the federal government,” said Horn, “for the sake of money. As much as I like the idea of high, consistent standards across the country…we let that horse get away.”
Sen. Tillman also thought the Common Core was a good idea to begin with, but ultimately his trust lies with the state to develop its own standards, not a “national conglomerate of states.”
“This bill puts education back where it belongs, in the hands of North Carolina. That’s where I want it,” said Tillman.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or [email protected]