Raleigh, N.C. — The House Education Committee voted 27-16 Tuesday to direct state officials to begin studying new achievement standards for North Carolina students as a way to replace the national Common Core standards.
House Bill 1061, which still needs to go through the Appropriations Committee before heading to the House floor, would create an Academic Standards Review Commission to develop standards "tailored to the needs of North Carolina's students."
Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, said the transition won't be immediate because the state doesn't want to have to return $400 million in federal Race to the Top education grants tied to Common Core that it has accepted in recent years.
Rather, the move would be part of the normal five-year review of state academic standards undertaken by the State Board of Education, which is scheduled for 2015, Holloway said.
"We're telling them not to move down the Common Core road. We want them to take another direction," he said. "We're not trying to weaken standards. We actually would prefer to have even stronger standards."
Common Core standards for math and English were developed by state and nonprofit leaders, and they have been embraced by President Barack Obama's Education Department and adopted by 44 states. In North Carolina, the standards are backed by the North Carolina Chamber, the state's largest business group.
The standards are not a curriculum, but they do set out what students need to know and be able to do in order to graduate from high schools. School districts and classroom teachers still decide how that material is taught.
Supporters say the standards ensure students can move from one school district to another and prepare themselves for college and careers, and business groups say the standards will equip students with better reasoning skills and the ability to work cooperatively.
But the standards have come under fire nationally, mostly from political conservatives who criticize the measures as a federal takeover of education.
"It's our job, period," Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said of setting education standards. "We do not cede that responsibility to anyone – to any organization, the federal government, anyone."
The Senate is expected to take it up its own bill to repeal Common Core on Wednesday.
The House legislation calls for halting any planned implementation of Common Core in North Carolina schools, but Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare, offered an amendment that would allow schools to continue with the program while alternatives are studied.
Holloway called the move "a catfish amendment" that would gut the proposal.
Other lawmakers, however, questioned why Common Core couldn't continue, especially if the state's examination of alternatives determines they all fall short of Common Core.
"We're asking a committee to study what's in the best interest of North Carolina students. 'Oh, by the way, you can't study this,'" said Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg. "You can do anything you want. You just can't use your left hand."
Holloway said pieces of Common Core might be adopted under the new system, but the bill would preclude the new standards to adopt a majority of the program.
Lew Ebert, president and chief executive of the N.C. Chamber, wanted to speak against the bill at the committee hearing, but there was no opportunity for public comment.
"Abruptly abandoning the standards and implementation process adopted by the legislature in 2011 will jeopardize North Carolina’s economic and education progress in recent years," Ebert said in a statement. "House Bill 1061 waives the white flag and sends a signal to job creators in North Carolina and every state in the country that North Carolina is not ready to compete. This legislation is not only a step backward for our classrooms, but it is a step backward for our manufacturing floors to the research labs and garages where the next big ideas are being born."
Chamber Vice President Gary Salamido said a lot of time, money and energy has already been spent on Common Core.
“It’s time to let that work. There's a formal evaluation process that we're in the middle of right now that can take the good (and) make it better, take stuff that's not working (and) maybe replace it with other standards," Salamido said. "I think we just need to let it take its course.”
Common Core gives businesses "predictable standards for education,” so executives know what future workers – and their own children – will be learning if they decide to open a plant in North Carolina, he said.
“Higher standards is an economic development advantage for our state," he said. "We need to make sure we don’t do anything that complicates that or injects a level of unpredictability.”
Gov. Pat McCrory said he backs high standards for North Carolina students but believes that the state can remedy the testing concerns in Common Core.
"I think the issue is not the high standards, which we have to have. I think the issue the implementation and execution, especially with regard to testing," McCrory said. "I hope they focus more on the testing and the implementation of the testing rather than the concept of requiring high standards, especially in math and reading."
The 17-member Academic Standards Review Commission would be part of the state Department of Administration, not the Department of Public Instruction, and the panel would consist primarily of parents and educators. Holloway said keeping it outside of DPI would make it more independent.
The revised standards would go to State Board of Education for approval, but if lawmakers don't agree with the board's position, they could override it and enact new standards themselves.
Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, asked what standards would be used while the transition is in process, saying the bill seems to leave teachers in limbo. Holloway said existing requirements would remain in effect, but the state wouldn't spend any more time or money on Common Core.
"This in no way leaves us without standards," Holloway said.