RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina took a step Thursday toward replacing national education standards known as Common Core with state-crafted standards – a move that conservatives say could restore the state’s right to determine what happens in its classrooms and liberals say plays politics with education to reject a policy implemented during President Barack Obama’s administration.
A bicameral state legislative committee approved a draft bill that instructs the state Board of Education to replace Common Core with new standards after consulting with an advisory commission created by the bill. One of the key goals is “to ensure that they are rigorous, meet and reflect North Carolina’s priorities, are age and developmentally appropriate, and are understandable to parents and teachers,” according to the draft bill.
The education standards affect language arts, literacy and math from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Common Core standards will be in place until replacement standards have been approved, said Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, a committee co-chairman.
State lawmakers could vote on the bill during the legislature’s short session, which will start May 14.
If the bill is enacted, its proposed advisory commission – referred to as the Academic Standards Review Commission – could meet as early as Sept. 1.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said in support of the bill during the meeting that policy decisions on education should not be ceded to a national template such as Common Core. “I’ve always been a very strong advocate for rigorous standards,” Tillman said. Later, he continued, “This bill puts education back where the Constitution says it belongs: in the hands of North Carolina.”
Common Core is in place in 44 states.
Bills rejecting Common Core have been filed in 17 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One state – Indiana – enacted its bill rejecting Common Core, according to the NCSL. Five states – Arizona, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming – rejected theirs. Bills are pending in the 11 other states.
Fewer than half of the states that have adopted the education standards have filed bills in an effort to reject it. According to the Common Core website, 44 states, including North Carolina, had adopted Common Core.
For Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, such efforts, including the draft bill approved here, represent a political tool by which a Republican-dominated legislature can thwart an education policy, not for its content, but because it was implemented under the Obama administration.
“This is about who’s in the White House,” she said during a meeting recess. During the meeting, talking to other committee members, Parmon said, “I know my comments will not really change anything as we prepare the voting on this bill, but I just want to say this is a bad way to do policy.”
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, who attended the meeting but is not a committee member, supports the bill.
“We can take out the things we don’t want, and we’ll be able to add things to it. … I think we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.
Funding cuts, potential changes affect schooling
Members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and district officials have repeatedly lamented the difficulties of implementing Common Core curriculum without enough money from the state for textbooks and instructional materials to match.
Statewide, funding for textbooks fell from a high of nearly $111.2 million in the 2009-10 school year to about $23.2 million this year. North Carolina adopted the Common Core standards three years ago and implemented them last school year.
Individual members have not agreed on the best way to address those issues, though.
Jeannie Metcalf said she is glad to see the state moving away from Common Core.
“I hope we can move forward and develop some standards that people in North Carolina think are good standards for North Carolina,” she said.
Elisabeth Motsinger, a local school-board member, said that the implementation of Common Core was rocky but she still supports the idea of rigorous standards that are consistent across state lines and promote critical-thinking skills. The standards should be tweaked, not replaced, she said.
“Everything will always need adjusting and improving,” she said. “That’s doesn’t mean you throw it away.”
Some educators are expressing concern about what the move away from Common Core will mean for the time and money invested so far.
Ann Petitjean, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said the burden will be on teachers who are just starting to get comfortable with Common Core standards.
“To repeal something after using it for two years without giving it a chance – after the amount of money and time spent on training people, purchasing materials – just makes me cringe,” she said. “Now the poor teachers have to go through another training, of another set of standards and a new curriculum.”
Recommendations due December 2015
The bill’s proposed advisory commission would comprise 17 members, including parents of students, math and language-arts teachers, and experts in those subjects, according to the bill. Most of the members would be selected by the House Speaker, Thom Tillis, who is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, and the Senate president pro tempore, Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
Certain changes could come soon after, as the commission may suggest replacing specific elements of Common Core, under an amendment proposed by Tillman, the Randolph senator. But the commission’s comprehensive report, with broader recommendations, would not be due until December 2015.
“We will fly under the flag that we’re flying under now,” Holloway said, “hopefully with an amendment that will allow us to pull out the most detrimental pieces” before the 2015 deadline.
Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, who attended the meeting but is not a committee member, does not support the bill, he said. But Hanes seemed to strike a pragmatic tone with a view toward making education standards as best as they can be for students.
“It shouldn’t be about what makes parents comfortable in terms of who is or who is not in the White House. … We’ve got to stay focused on the kids. We’ve got to stay focused on the fact that we have huge populations of poor students in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County who aren’t reading proficiently at the end of third grade.
“If Common Core can help my kids in those districts do better … then I’m all for Common Core. If the … bill to improve Common Core helps those kids read, then that’s what we need to be looking at,” Hanes said.