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Public sounds off on Common Core standards

Posted March 20, 2014 11:15 a.m. EDT
Updated March 20, 2014 8:37 p.m. EDT

— Members of the public and representatives of think tanks, nonprofits and industry groups sounded off Thursday on North Carolina's adoption of Common Core standards, academic goals the state has adopted for its public school students. 

The standards are not a curriculum. Rather, they lay out what students need to know and be able to do. School districts and classroom teachers still decide how that material is taught. Although the state Department of Public Instruction has adopted the standards, lawmakers are considering reining in their implementation, paying particular attention to costs associated with testing. 

Nationally, the standards have become a point of political controversy. Although some high profile conservatives, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, support Common Core, other conservative groups and lawmakers have questioned why the new standards are needed.

The standards were developed by state and nonprofit leaders, and they have been embraced by President Barack Obama's Education Department. 

"First and foremost, it violates our U.S. Constitution," said Lynn Taylor, who identified herself as a private educator who has done research on Common Core standards.

Taylor expressed a common criticism of the standards, which is that they cede control of education to national and international groups.

"It replaces fact-based learning with feelings...For every second we allow these standards to survive, we chip away at students' love of learning," she said.

Parents of schoolchildren, especially those in primary grades, said the Common Core standards are unreasonably demanding. 

Johnston County mother Leslie Mills said she came to speak because she's worried about her children, especially her kindergartner, Elijah. 

"I've looked in depth at the common core standards specifically for my children and they are just not developmentally appropriate at all," Mills said.

"Children and parents across our state are crying," said concerned mother Kellie Crump. "They are frustrated, they're anxious and they're giving up."

Backers of the standards say they ensure students can move from school district to school district and prepare themselves for college and careers.

Mooresville High English teacher Nancy Gardner says education must evolve with technology. She says students these days have facts at their fingertips. "But if they don't know how to critically look at what they're seeing on the Internet, think about what that means, problem solve, then learn to write about that, communicate that, we're not setting them up for success." 

"Higher standards are crucial to achieving the most competent, competitive workforce in the region, the nation and the world," said Gary Salamido, vice president of government affairs at the North Carolina Chamber. "It is critical that we move forward with and build upon these higher standards."

Many business groups back the standards because they say it will equip students with better reasoning skills and the ability to work cooperatively. However, that backing from industry raises suspicions among some opponents.

Some critics suggested that Common Core is a government conspiracy involving the United Nations and the Gates Foundation, which helped to fund the initial development of the standards. 

"This thing is about control," said Raynor James with the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers' Association, a Tea Party group. "Control of our children's education, control of their attitudes, control of our country at a later time.

"Common Core "fits a corporate agenda to teach our children to be slaves of corporations," said Scot Rapp, who identified himself as a teacher, "and when the interest of corporations takes precedence, that's fascism."

Rapp said that Common Core language standards shifted away from well-known novels to graphic novels, instruction manuals and "government propaganda on sustainability, which we know is a lie." 

Other critics suggested that the standards are immoral and negate parents' right to control what their children learn. 

Ramona Timm with the Stokes County Tea Party said she covered illustrations in her daughter's health textbook because they would have offended lawmakers. Holding it up, she said, "If you could see this, you'd know this book from age 10 years old is pornographic." 

Alan Hoyle, a self-described preacher, held up a Bible. "I am holding in my hand the textbook that has made America great," he said. Common Core "is pushing on our students sodomy, abortion, and feminism."   

Other teachers said the standards were good and encountered problems due to a quick roll-out.

"The fast implementation has created some of the negative groundswell that you've heard," said Mark Jewell, vice president of North Carolina Association of Educators. "It's not the standards - it’s the over-assessment and the time taken away from teaching."

Patrick Abele, an employee with Iredell-Statesville Schools and a parent, said Common Core helps students understand a subject beyond rote memorization.

"The standards help us go deeper with learning rather than skimming the surface of a topic or unit," Abele said. "The standards do not tell teachers how to teach. They simply specify to teachers what knowledge and skills their students should have."

Those who spoke against the standards returned to common themes. One parent said Common Core would require students to read books that may be inappropriate for their age. Others decried that the standards de-emphasized memorization of facts, and many said the standards would translate into a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum, often citing the experience of their own children.

"Common Core standards also violate a fundamental principle of our constitution: federalism," said Bob Luebke, with the Civitas Institute.

States, not the federal government or a national nonprofit group, should determine standards for students, Luebke said.

"Common Core centralizes control of educational policy making," he said. 

Teachers such as Karen Collie Dickerson, a Guilford County English teacher and 2013 Teacher of the Year, said Common Core allowed her to dive more deeply into topics with her students, even those who had previously struggled in language arts classes.

"They also promote what I like to call the new three Rs in education: rigor, readiness and relevance," Dickerson said. "This notion of increased rigor does not mean we are dumbing down."

Opponents often say the standards are eliminating material or reducing expectations, but Dickerson said the standards make sure all students understand a certain pool of common material, which they can then build upon.

"We are simply raising the floor or baseline for what they must achieve, so the ceiling can reach limitless heights," Dickerson said.