NC panel starts revision of Common Core standards

Posted September 22, 2014 2:01 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2014 6:04 p.m. EDT

— As part of legislation repealing the controversial Common Core academic standards in North Carolina public schools, a new state commission began the process Monday of reviewing math and English language targets for students to devise a new system of standards.

The Academic Standards Review Commission has a year to come up with standards to recommend to the State Board of Education. The Common Core standards started to show up in classrooms two years ago and will stay in place until any changes are finalized.

A national organization of state school officers and the National Governors Association developed the Common Core standards, which the federal government encouraged states to accept with potential grant money as an incentive. Forty-four states and Washington, D.C., adopted them, with North Carolina one of the earliest to sign on. Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Missouri have since decided to rewrite the Common Core standards.

North Carolina has spent more than $66 million to train teachers on the standards, which are supposed to focus on key concepts and help students understand how to apply them in real-life situations, State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said.

But Common Core became a target for conservatives, who called it a federal takeover of local education. It also angered some parents, who said the standards were inappropriate in several areas.

"I'm hopeful that the standards will remain strong and any issues with age-appropriateness standards, that those would be the ones that would be addressed," said Phil Kirk, a Republican business leader who headed the state school board for six years under former Democratic Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. "We've spent tens of millions of dollars developing the standards and training teachers and it will be frustrating if we have to start all over on that."

House members wanted to prohibit the commission from even considering any element of Common Core as the new standards are drawn up, but they eventually agreed with the Senate version of the legislation that could allow the panel to include some Common Core standards in the rewrite.

Still, Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, warned the 11 commissioners on Monday that lawmakers don't want "just a rehash" of Common Core.

"If we didn't want something different, we wouldn't need you all in this room today," said Tillman, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "I want North Carolina to own its standards. I want North Carolina to own its curriculum. I want North Carolina to own its assessments."

Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education and a member of the commission, said standards don't dictate curriculum, and he asked that recommendations be based on data, not the emotional debates that led to the repeal legislation.

"My hope is that we will objectively evaluate these standards and make modifications where needed, but do it on the basis of facts and research, not emotions," Cobey said. "I believe we should insist, as best we are able, that those who testify before this commission be required to back up their testimony with solid evidence."

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, told commissioners that they need to raise the bar for North Carolina students but cautioned against "policy whiplash."

"We've got to make sure a North Carolina high school diploma means something in the world," Horn said. "Our kids are depending on you."

IBM executive Andre Peek of Wake County and longtime Forsyth County school board member Jeannie Metcalf were named co-chairmen of the commission.

The law directs the commission to survey parents, teachers and others on new standards, which need to be submitted to the state education board by the end of 2015. The commission also could hold town hall meetings.