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Originally published: 2014-06-23 10:16:47
Last modified: 2014-06-23 10:16:47

N.C. poised to abandon Common Core standards

By JUSTIN GRIMES
Controversial bills to end the Common Core education standards in North Carolina adopted in 2010 have recently passed the Republican-led General Assembly, making national headlines which challenged the motives of legislators, suggesting the move is more political than educational.
Common Core emphasizes critical thinking over memorization. Students solve math problems several ways and must explain their work. 

Language arts standards focus on evaluating information and making arguments.

Sen. Dan Soucek, co-chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, is leading the charge to repeal Common Core and replace it with new state standards.

As primary sponsor of the Senate Bill 812 (Maintain State Authority over Academic Standards), Soucek said, "With our bill, it will be unambiguous who controls North Carolina's standards for academics. I have grave concerns from people I respect. The highest priority is having high, age-appropriate standards for our students."

Backers of the repeal see Common Core standards as an intrusion by the federal government.

Soucek's harshest critics say that he is meddling in education without asking the input of seasoned educators.

"Common Core is common sense," said David Fonseca, interim superintendent of Watauga County Schools. 

Fonseca urged the General Assembly to stay the course and not abandon the Common Core standards.

In his public statement, Fonseca said that the Common Core has been misunderstood. 

The federal government did not create the standards. Nor does the federal government mandate the core's implementation, he said.

Conservative activists led Indiana and South Carolina to drop the standards earlier in 2014. 

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed a bill that repeals and replaces Common Core standards in her state and a similar measure awaits the governor's signature in Missouri.

In floor debate, N.C. Sen. Josh Stein insisted the new system is bringing about needed changes.

"They're moving from recall -- What's the answer? -- to learning how to think," Stein said. 

Other Democrats accused the Republican majority of pouncing on misunderstandings about the program to undermine President Barack Obama, who supports it.

"We're using this bill to appease about 20 percent of the population that's very upset about something that's been misconstrued," Democratic state Rep. Marcus Brown said.

"The Common Core is not a curriculum. The standards do not dictate how teachers should teach or what materials they must use," Kristen Stephens, associate professor in Duke University's Program in Education, said. 

"In fact, the standards afford teachers a great deal of flexibility and leave decisions to teachers and schools about how to best help students reach these standards. The lesson plans and any materials are left to states, school systems and teachers," Stephens said.

Despite four years, two of planning and training and two years of implementing the Common Core at great expense, the N.C. House bill would not allow the new panel charged with coming up with N.C. standards to consider continuing to use Common Core as a basis for future standards. 

Senators left open the possibility that Common Core, with modifications, could continue to serve as the basis for North Carolina's public school standards. 

"There would be no disruption to Common Core standards as the state moves to adopt new standards; won't impact anything while we work on improving them," Soucek said.

Avery County Schools Superintendent David Burleson said he hopes that we take the Common Core as a foundation. Its adoption has been expensive across the state.

"If this becomes law, what's important is who the members of the new commission will be," Burleson said. "Educators need to be represented."

Soucek promises that under his bill, no elected officials would serve on the new panel, committee, commission, which both the House and Senate have planned to undertake the task of developing state standards. 

The House and Senate will appoint four members and the governor will appoint three.

The N.C. Chamber of Commerce and the N.C. Association of Educators support Common Core standards and on June 12, a group of retired military officers traveled to the Capital and told legislators that the state needs to give the program more time.

The Mission Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids argued that Common Core standards are necessary to ensure the nation's future military strength. 

They said the standards will make students better prepared to compete in the military, in college and in the workplace.

Gov. Pat McCrory has expressed his reservations about dropping the Common Core, and although the Senate and House passed their versions with veto proof majorities, they will have to reconcile their two bills or agree to accept one or the other.