Point of View

Common Core: Critics in search of a coherent vision

June 13, 2013 

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Wake County schools math instructor Monica Abel gets animated as she discusses "Doing Mathematics" with other teachers at Sanderson High School Thursday Aug. 23, 2012. She teaches 7th grade math at Wendell Middle Scholl. Math teachers from across the Wake County school system spent the morning in a training session for the start of the new school year. A major focus will be learning how to teach the new common core math curriculum that's in place statewide for the 2012-13 school year.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

For three years, opponents of Common Core State Standards have done a good job articulating shortcomings of the widespread adoption of common standards and testing, identifying key flaws that undermine their quality and rigor.

They also warn that Common Core standards and tests will continue to demand a greater share of schools’ scarce resources

Unfortunately, there are few specific, viable alternatives.

Those critical of Common Core think individual states should return to developing their own educational programs. For years, however, many of the same people and organizations railed against mediocre state standards, curricula and tests. For states like North Carolina, Common Core is an improvement over standards formulated by the state Department of Public Instruction. Resuscitating state standards would be a step in the wrong direction.

Additionally, Common Core opponents should consider that developing new standards and tests would require states to spend several years and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars writing, field-testing and rolling out their revised plans. States like North Carolina do not have the time, money or internal expertise to create high-quality English and math standards and tests from scratch.

Furthermore, if North Carolina reverted to a wholly state-developed program, we would lose advantages linked to Common Core, most notably state-by-state comparisons of student performance.

A vocal minority opposes Common Core because of the standardized testing. They do not represent groups, including the John Locke Foundation, that have spent years championing strong, accurate public school accountability measures. Abandoning Common Core should not be synonymous with scrapping testing in favor of a system that does little to ensure public schools are raising student achievement or spending taxpayers’ money productively.


There are multiple paths away from Common Core that address these concerns.

Rather than require that the state formulate a new educational program, we should reassert North Carolina’s authority to determine the educational program that best meets the state’s needs. Five states – including Virginia, Texas and Minnesota – have rejected Common Core standards in English or math. After a thorough review, the N.C. State Board of Education could negotiate with one or more of these states to adopt a superior standard and testing program in one or both subjects.

Cost and time associated with implementation would be minimal because the partner state has done much of the work developing and field-testing its standards and tests. In addition, North Carolina’s test results could be compared with students in the partner states. Indeed, state education officials might find it advantageous to adopt English and math standards and tests from different states, or they might choose to revamp only one of the two subjects.

If a complete overhaul of standards and tests is impossible, an opportunity remains to address testing. Because the N.C. State Board of Education has yet to adopt Common Core tests formally, North Carolina may administer independent, nationally normed tests of student achievement in English and math.

DPI recently reported that Common Core tests would increase testing costs from the current $10 per student to an estimated $27 per student. The state should find an alternative testing regimen, comparable in cost to our state tests, that provides the state-by-state comparisons found in Common Core assessments. Testing companies have started to align their tests to Common Core standards, so North Carolina would have a number of options.

In the end, North Carolinians should demand nothing less than the absolute best standards and tests for our children. Common Core falls short of that mark, but so do many of the alternatives. Those of us who oppose Common Core must move beyond naysaying and begin to communicate a coherent vision of rigorous standards and high-quality tests that would move our public schools forward.

Terry Stoops, a former classroom teacher, is director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

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