Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate voted Thursday for a bill that could begin moving North Carolina's public school curriculum away from the much-debated Common Core standards, which have become a focal point for the ire of some parents and many political conservatives.
Senators voted 33-15 for their version of the measure the day after House lawmakers approved their own measure. In order to pass the General Assembly, one version of the bill must pass both chambers.
Both versions of the bill would appoint a state commission to review North Carolina's educational standards. The House bill would not allow that commission to consider continuing to use Common Core as a basis for future standards. Senators left open the possibility that Common Core, with modifications, would continue to serve as the basis for North Carolina's public school standards.
"There will not be a gap in standards," said Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, the measure's author.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said that the Common Core math standards expected too little of high school students while its math standards for elementary age kids were "unrealistic and not age-appropriate."
North Carolina students are wrapping up their second full year of learning geared toward meeting the standards. Backers of keeping the current Common Core program say the state is making changes to classroom instruction just as teachers and students are adapting to the new approaches.
The repeal bill "introduces instability at exactly the wrong time," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
"Why are we saying to teachers who have spent untold numbers of hours learning how to teach ... 'All that work you've put into it, we've got a commission, and we may throw it out the window?'" Stein said.
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. 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.
Underpinning much of the push for repeal is the sense by political conservatives that North Carolina had ceded its prerogative to set educational standards in favor of national program tainted by federal involvement.
The push for repeal has faced opposition from business leaders, who say high education standards will help businesses find good workers, and Gov. Pat McCrory, who said lawmakers should focus on testing rather than doing away with standards.
"(This is) the message we don't want to send to the world right now. We want to make sure we're open for business, and we're serious about talent," said Lew Ebert, president of the North Carolina Chamber.
For business leaders, the push for Common Core standards is linked to the need to ensure workers and college aspirants meet certain basic qualifications.
Ebert said the Chamber favors the Senate bill over the House version.
"I think you're going to see a bill out of here (the Senate) that is more moderate around that and more focused on the fact we have high standards now. If can make them higher and more rigorous, let's try and do that," he said.
The House bill, he said, is focused on repealing the Common Core standards but it doesn't ensure continued work on improving the state's own academic standards.