Welcome back! I trust everyone had a good summer. We all need breaks and I hope you had a chance to unplug. You say that you were following Common Core until school let out. And now, well, you have no idea what’s happened these last few months. No problem. It’s time for a quick recap.
Common Core Legislation. After months of review, heated testimony, and packed hearing rooms, the Common Core Standards Legislative Review Commission developed legislation to repeal and revise the Common Core Math and English Standards. When the short session began in May, the House and Senate each offered and later approved slightly different versions of a Common Core bill. A conference committee worked out the differences and Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation (SB 812) on July 22, 2014.
Without getting lost in the details, the bill does four things:
- Establishes an 11-member Academic Standards Review Commission (ASCR) to conduct a comprehensive review of Common Core English Language Arts and Math Standards. The ASCR will make recommendations to the State Board of Education and disband no later than December 31, 2015.
- Calls on State Board of Education to continue to review standards and assessments in other states and of national assessments aligned with those standards.
- Removes Common Core from existing state statutes.
- Requires the Chairman of the State Board of Education to call the first ASRC meeting no later than September 1 of this year.
While that part seems pretty straightforward, there seem to be various interpretations on what the bill means.
Two sides. Sen. Jerry Tillman, co-chair of the Senate Education Committee and largely responsible for drafting the legislation calling for the repeal and revision of Common Core Standards, shared his thoughts on the need for such legislation when he said, “If you adopt national standards, that triggers everything else. It triggers your test, it triggers your textbook, and it triggers your teaching methods. If you believe in Common Core, they own it all, and North Carolina owns nothing.”
If you ask Governor McCrory about the Common Core bill, a bill he signed, you get a different answer. In a release put out by the Governor’s Office on the day he signed the legislation, the Governor said:
I will sign this bill because it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards. It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards. No standards will change without the approval of the State Board of Education. I especially look forward to the recommendations that will address testing issues so we can measure what matters most for our teachers, parents and students.
Those statements reflect the lines of division among Republicans and Democrats in the Common Core debate. On one side, conservatives see Common Core as an illegitimate transfer of power. Common Core takes responsibility for education away from states and local communities and transfers it to unelected officials. Other moderate, business-oriented Republicans and Democrats see Common Core as necessary for improving our schools and maintaining the state’s competitiveness. Supporters frequently acknowledge Common Core’s shortcomings but don’t believe North Carolina should turn its back on higher academic standards.
ASCR. Those descriptions will likely be the fault lines represented on the Academic Standards Review Commission. Although starting late, a number of appointments have recently been made to ASCR. Eight members have been named. They are:
Appointments made by Speaker Tom Tillis:
Mrs. Sara “Katie” Lemons of Stokes County — English Teacher
Dr. Jeffrey A. Isenhour of Catawba County — Middle School Principal
Ms. Tammy J. Covil of New Hanover County — New Hanover County Board of Education
Mrs. Sharmel “Denise” Watts of Mecklenburg County — Project Lift in Charlotte
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s Appointments:
Dr. John. T. Scheick of Wake County — Retired Professor
Laurie McCullom of Rockingham County — Assistant Principal
Ann B. Clark of Iredell County — Deputy Superintendent of Schools, CMS
Jeannie Metcalf of Forsyth County – Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education
Three slots remain to be filled. The Chairman of the State Board of Education (SBE), Bill Cobey, has two of those appointments. Governor McCrory has the other appointment. No word yet on when either official will announce their selections.
Legislation creating ASCR specifies that the Commission’s first meeting was to be held before Sept. 1. Of course that didn’t happen. Recently SBE Chairman Bill Cobey distributed a letter saying he had not received the names of appointments, so it was not possible to hold a meeting by Sept. 1. With the latest round of appointments, a quorum is present. So I would expect that Commission meeting dates and agendas would start to develop shortly.
Common Core and Poll Results. Whenever ASCR’s work does commence, Commission members will be awash in study reports and data. Still, they should also be aware of the shift in public opinion on Common Core Standards. Two national polls released in recent weeks reflect a significant erosion of support for Common Core Standards among key constituencies.
The 46th annual Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) national poll on attitudes toward public education reported that over 80 percent of respondents had heard about Common Core State Standards, with almost half of respondents (47%) saying they had heard a great deal or a fair amount. Those results stand in stark contrast to last year when almost two-thirds (62%) of Americans said they had never heard of Common Core State Standards.
Among those that had heard of Common Core Standards, fewer than half believe the new English Language Arts and Math Standards will make the United States more competitive in the world. In addition, the poll also reported that 60 percent of Americans oppose teachers using the Common Core to guide what they teach.
Another national poll (2014 EdNext Survey) also had encouraging results for critics of Common Core standards. While poll results show a majority of respondents still support Common Core, support for the standards continues to erode. In 2013, 65 percent of respondents favored Common Core Standards; in 2014 that figure dropped to 53 percent. Moreover, support for the standards declined among all groups — the general public, Republicans, Democrats and teachers. Opposition to Common Core has grown among teachers, increasing from 12 to 40 percent in one year. At the same time, support for the standards among teachers has declined from 76 to 46 percent in the last year.
It is also interesting to note, with regard to the EdNext Survey, when the pollster dropped the phrase Common Core from the question, support for the standards increased from 53 to 68 percent. That signifies what most of us already know: yes, people want high academic standards, but Common Core is a toxic term. That problem is what’s propelling the effort by proponents to rebrand the standards.
So welcome back. We all need to re-engage and stay informed. It’s time to begin the work of ensuring North Carolina standards are rigorous, age-appropriate and the highest possible. Let’s get started.