by A.P. Dillon
On Friday, December 18th, the North Carolina Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) was tasked with providing recommendations to replace Common Core standards held their last meeting. All indications over the prior fourteen months of meetings pointed to substantial changes being recommended.
What happened was akin to a prize fighter taking a dive in the big fight.
The meeting began with the usual procedural measures and heard briefly from Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Moore) who underscored that the legislature would not accept a rebrand of the standards. Then the meeting skipped any discussion of the findings in the draft report and turned to directly voting on the proposed draft recommendations.
The commission began by voting on the English Language Arts (ELA) recommendations (p. 39), which seemed to simply be a re-wording of the task assigned to the ASRC by the legislature. The draft report is forty-four pages long, yet the recommendations are only three pages long.
There was very little discussion of the ELA and were a few small language changes made to those recommendations before the commission started discussions on the Math standards. In fact, the discussion and voting on the ELA section took less than thirty minutes.
It is important for the public to understand that for the better part of the last six months, the math group engaged in making these recommendations had stated their intent of looking at Minnesota’s math standards as a replacement for the grades of kindergarten through eighth grade. The math group’s findings and research were available to all of the commission members and majority of the commission were in agreement that there needed to be changes made to the math standards.
Before large scale discussions on the math standards even began, the suggestion to apply the ELA recommendations to the Math as well was made by Commissioner Ann Clark. Clark suggested substituting the word Math for that of English Language Arts and adapting the rest of the language as needed. The Commission voted ‘yes’ to this change and then moved on to the actual math recommendations.
Once the math debate started, it quickly turned into an inquisition of Dr. Ted Scheik and was led largely by commission member Jeffrey Isenhour. Commission members Denise Watts, Olivia Oxendine and Ann Clark aided Isenhour in scrutinizing and criticizing Dr. Scheik. At one point this scrutiny became so heated that Co-Chair Covil noted it to be ‘beyond that which North Carolina’s Superintendent has not had’.
After more than an hour and a half of grilling Dr. Scheik on his two recommendations, the commission voted both of them down. In between the first vote and the second, Commissioner Jeannie Metcalf became so disgusted that she got up and left. Co-Chair Peek didn’t even seem to notice and the voting continued on.
On the first recommendation, the only ‘yes’ votes came from Co-Chair Covil, Dr. Scheik, Jeannie Metcalf and Laurie McCollum. On the second, the only ‘yes’ votes came from Co-Chair Covil, Dr. Scheik and Katie Lemons.
While the local media present at this meeting seemed confused as to why the commission would scuttle their own report, the reason was clear to many regular attendees in the gallery. The commission had just taken a dive and caved to pressure from outside groups and education officials. To be frank, it really appeared that those voting down the math standards had ignored the research done by the math group and had chosen to stand by Common Core instead of North Carolina’s children.
While groups like the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) had representatives there claiming victory to the media on hand, the parents in the room were frustrated and angry.
Attendee Karen Fink, told ABC11 that, “They’re discounting their own research. What they’ve been working on for the last 15 months, they totally ignored.“
And Fink is right. That is exactly what the commissioners who voted down the math changes did. They took it easy in the first few rounds, beat up on the math in the middle rounds and then took a dive just as the final bell rang.
There is, however, a silver lining of sorts. In approving recommendations that were as non-specific as these are, the ASRC arguably has not completed the task set out by the legislature in SB 812. If Senator Tillman is true to his word, the legislature will not accept these recommendations.
One would hope that the legislature would instead look at the bulk of the commission’s findings which show glaring flaws in both the Common Core ELA and the math standards. With this commission failing to fulfill the goal set out for them, it is incumbent on the legislature to now act.
The General Assembly needs to understand that this is not just about Common Core, this is part and parcel of the failed education policies of former Governor Perdue, and that of former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And the General Assembly needs to recognize that Dr. Atkinson has stood shoulder to shoulder on policy issues with these two.
The Department of Public Instruction, under the leadership of June Atkinson, has made a mess of North Carolina schools with a blind loyalty to Common Core. Going back as far as the Race Top The Top grant application in January 2010, Dr. Atkinson has shown her allegiance to Common Core time and time again by continuing to defend the standards over the very loud objections of the public.
If her continual defense of line item standards amid national calls to dump Common Core isn’t telling enough, perhaps the data showing a boom in the numbers of North Carolina families choosing homeschooling and skyrocketing demand for more school choice are more of a wake-up call. Parents want out of traditional public schools and Common Core is a major common denominator.
It is also worth noting that over the last year, Atkinson served as President of one of the two Washington, D.C. trade organizations who hold the copyright on the standards. She really cannot be considered objective at this point.
Whatever action the General Assembly does take needs to be swift and include consequences for non-compliance, because Atkinson conveniently has already begun the 5 year annual process of ‘reviewing’ North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study.
If anyone is the betting kind, a good bet would be that Atkinson directs that review to make sure that Common Core stays exactly where it is.
While the ASRC clearly took a dive to protect Common Core, it seems that a new fight has now begun.
A.P. Dillon is a contributing writer.