A North Carolina commission tasked with reviewing and replacing the Common Core State Standards met for the first time on Monday to determine first steps and elect two co-chairs, one being McCrory-appointed IBM executive Andre Peek, who declared himself a supporter of Common Core after the meeting.
“I am a supporter of Common Core, and I have been since its inception,” Peek told N.C. Policy Watch. “I do realize it’s [Common Core] a divisive issue for our state, though. But I don’t know the details of why…so through the efforts of this commission we’ll get to the facts…and how to change it to be more effective for our state.”
Peek added that he believed any changes made to the state’s academic standards will be based on fact and not just a feeling of “we don’t like it.”
The first meeting was also an opportunity for lawmakers who want Common Core out of North Carolina to address the commission’s eleven members, who include political appointees of Senate leader Phil Berger, Speaker Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory. Two members of the State Board of Education, including its chair, Bill Cobey, also sit on the commission.
“Now the intent of the legislature was to take Common Core off the books, to replace it, and repeal it,” warned Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Asheboro), a key proponent of repealing the Common Core standards who joined the review commission at its start. “Now that’s what the bill says…if we didn’t want something done different, we wouldn’t need you all in this room today.”
The evolution of Common Core in North Carolina
Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of guidelines that were developed by a group of governors and state superintendents and set forth what students should know and be able to do in English Language Arts and mathematics, has incited a great deal of controversy both in North Carolina and around the nation.
Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders have called into question whether or not the standards demand excessive testing, if they are grade-level appropriate, and if they serve as a vehicle for corporate profit. Some states have either opted out or plan to opt out of the adoption of the standards.
But proponents of the standards say they are badly needed, providing increased academic rigor that will better prepare students for today’s workforce demands.
Siding with those who are clamoring for homegrown academic standards that North Carolina can say it owns, state lawmakers passed a bill this past summer that halts the Common Core’s implementation and creates a politically appointed Academic Standards Review Commission that must review the standards and suggest appropriate changes.
“Over the past year and a half I have read many ad hominem comments about the current standards,” said State Board of Education chair and commission member Bill Cobey at the commission’s first meeting on Monday.
“My hope is that we’ll objectively evaluate the standards and make modifications where needed–but do it on the basis of fact and research, not emotions.”
The stakes for this commission’s decisions are high – North Carolina has already spent nearly $72 million of the federal Race to the Top grant on transitioning to the new state standards, which includes Common Core, and an additional $68 million on building local districts’ technological capacity to deliver on the new standards.
If the review commission fails to adopt high quality academic standards in accordance with federal guidelines, the state could be on the hook for returning those dollars. And there are scant additional dollars in place to retrain teachers on new standards going forward.
Nonetheless, Sen. Tillman has made his thoughts clear about how he feels about Common Core.
“If you adopt national standards, that triggers everything else. It triggers your test, it triggers your textbook, and it triggers your teaching methods,” Tillman told fellow lawmakers last summer.
“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,” Tillman added.
The work of the review commission
Members of the Academic Standards Review Commission have until December 2015 to suggest changes to North Carolina’s standards, which include Common Core, to the State Board of Education, which is then required to take those suggestions into account while conducting its own review of the academic standards.
At today’s first meeting, members first clashed on how to go about soliciting feedback from the community on their views and concerns of Common Core.
Some members were keen on diving into surveys and focus groups immediately. But Ann Clark, deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, cautioned against doing that without first building a solid understanding of the Common Core standards.
“Can we get a copy of the standards?” questioned Dr. John Scheick, a retired math professor who pointed out that the committee had not yet been provided copies of what the Common Core standards say.
Denise Watts, a member from Charlotte who works with Project LIFT, also warned that it is important to consider proper research methodologies before engaging in surveys and focus groups.
Members decided that for the next meeting, there will be a careful review of the Common Core standards so that everyone has an equal and thorough understanding of what the guidelines say.
Once that process is complete, next steps will be determined for completing surveys and focus groups and how to identify other stakeholders with whom to engage.
Per the legislation , review commission members are also expected to engage content experts to assist in evaluating the rigor of the current academic standards. Logistics of how that will play out are unclear, however, as the commission waits to learn what kind of budget it has to work with.
The Academic Standards Review Commission will meet on a monthly basis going forward.
The commission elected co-chairs at its first meeting: Andre Peek, an appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory and an executive at IBM who considers himself pro-Common Core; and Jeannie Metcalf, a longtime member of the Winston-Salem Board of Education.
Metcalf, who is an appointee of Senate leader Phil Berger and has no background in teaching, told N.C. Policy Watch last month about her qualifications to serve .
“I’ve read lots of magazines and I go to lots of meetings,” said Metcalf. “And so I got myself a self-guided education in curriculum standards in North Carolina and how they’ve changed over the years.”
Metcalf was previously called out more than a decade ago in a Winston-Salem Journal article for her comments about gay students made at a school board meeting during a discussion of who should be protected in an anti-bullying policy.
Metcalf was quoted as saying she believed homosexuality was a sin and that she didn’t care if gay students were teased – but Metcalf denied those comments then and to N.C. Policy Watch.
“I love homosexual people,” said Metcalf. “It was an issue of adding things to our bullying policy… and when we start labeling children, we will miss someone, so I want zero tolerance for anyone-–there is no use getting into labels.”
Andre Peek, who is director of Global Technology Services at IBM, serves on the NC Business Committee for Education and told N.C. Policy Watch last year that he believes North Carolina has become a net exporter of teachers, based on his interactions with people across the state.
North Carolina’s business community has fought hard to keep the Common Core standards in place. The NC Chamber of Commerce, along with several other business groups, took out a full-page ad in the News & Observer  and placed radio ads  to show their support for higher standards as lawmakers considered repealing the Common Core.
The Academic Standards Review Commission
Ms. Tammy Covil, New Hanover
Dr. Jeffrey Isenhour, Catawba
Ms. Katie Lemons, Stokes
Ms. Denise Watts, Mecklenburg
Ms. Ann B. Clark, Iredell
Dr. Laurie McCollum, Rockingham
Ms. Jeannie A. Metcalf, Forsyth
Dr. John T. Scheik, Wake
State Board of Education Members
Chairman William “Bill” Cobey, Durham
Dr. Olivia Oxendine, Robeson
Mr. Andre Peek, Wake
Questions? Comments? Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at [email protected]  or 919-861-1460. Twitter: @LindsayWagnerNC