North Carolina lawmakers continue to scrutinize the implementation of Common Core Standards, as they collect suggestions from leaders and educators to improve, amend or even replace them.
The state adopted the standards in 2010, though they were first implemented last school year. They are supposed to set a clear, consistent blueprint for what students across should learn from kindergarten through high school.
Implemented in 45 states, Common Core creates goals and rigorous tests that are intended to look the same across the country.
But as opposition to Common Core escalates, a legislative committee that began meeting in December has been charged with the task of studying and re-evaluating the standards.
This week, educators explained to lawmakers that many of them support the concept of Common Core, but have opposed its implementation. The timeline is too fast-paced, many argued, and teachers need more professional development and training.
“It’s a very tough transition for some of our teachers, in terms of a different way of teaching and learning for the students, and I think that’s where a lot of this nervousness is coming from. It’s different,” said Elizabeth Doyle, an instructional coach at Guilford County Schools.
Doyle was a tad more diplomatic about her concerns than Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest.
“A one-size fits all approach to the educational standards is just plain un-American and just plain won’t work in our diverse country,” he said.
Many critics of Common Core argue that it takes control away from the state – that it makes it hard to hold any agency or person accountable. For those reasons, Forest is urging the General Assembly to reconvene a commission that would review and judge each and every standard.
“Let us take what is good and keep it, let us take what is bad and eliminate it and let us take what needs to be improved and fix it,” he said.
North Carolina does have that freedom to make changes, according to State Superintendent June Atkinson. Last year, for example, lawmakers brought back cursive handwriting.
“I’ve never seen a standard that was perfect, never in my life, and I don’t think we ever will, but we should not throw away the great work that the teachers and our principals and the DPI and our business community have done,” she says.
Plus, too many changes could hurt students, according to Atkinson. She says North Carolina’s standards – the way they are now - are aligned to big national tests like the SAT or the ACT.
North Carolina isn’t the only state having second thoughts about Common Core. Terry Stoops, an education policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation, says Arizona threw out the name Common Core and Iowa changed it to ‘Iowa Core’.
“Florida, god help them, renamed their standards The Next Generation, Sunshine State Standards .Try to say three times fast. In my mind, these are not serious attempts to engage the issue, this is a rebranding effort,” he said.
Stoops recommends that the legislature create two commissions for English language arts and Math made up of stakeholders like teachers, parents and college professors.
“They would take a very serious look the standards to determine if they are the standards we need for NC going forward,” he said.
Behind the experts, away from the microphones and big PowerPoint presentations, a crowd of parents, community members and spectators – most of whom oppose Common Core – observed the meeting.
“Having watched my children going through the school system, I have been very upset with the Common Core curriculum that is coming into their daily classroom,” said parent Jennifer Strickland from Goldsboro.
Strickland has four children, with the youngest in kindergarten and the oldest in fourth grade. Since Common Core was implemented in 2012, she says she’s seen big changes in her oldest son, who is dyslexic.
“My child comes home and before he starts his homework, he begins to cry,” she says. “This is a very bright child, that as a kindergartner, anyone that met him thought he was very very intelligent, but as he entered the school system, and he was required to do things that were not developmentally appropriate for him, he began to fall behind.”
Strickland says her other children are also being given Common Core material that she thinks is not grade appropriate.
She and others will soon be able to share those thoughts with lawmakers, as the legislative committee will hold another meeting next month open to public comment.