State House votes to replace Common Core education standards

lbonner@newsobserver.com jstancill@newsobserver.com June 4, 2014 

  • Superintendents rally round DPI

    Superintendents from around the state gathered Wednesday to argue against a significant cut to the state Department of Public Instruction.

    The Senate budget would cut 30 percent from the state education department, which provides support to 115 local school districts across North Carolina and a growing number of charter schools. State Superintendent June Atkinson estimated that a 30 percent cut would mean the loss of 100 to 150 positions in her department.

    “We would be crippled without the support of DPI in our smaller districts,” said Dale Cole, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools.

    He said the district has only two curriculum coordinators and must depend on DPI for policy reviews, procedures and new technology. “I’m all for pay raises for our teachers; they deserve them,” Cole said. “But if you’re going to undercut the support structures, I wouldn’t call that a raise in compensation.”

    Ricky Lopes, chief finance officer for the Cumberland County schools, said his district had cut 600 positions since 2008-09 and would have to cut 300 more under the Senate proposal. With a smaller administrative staff, Lopes said he depends more on the state education department for basic functions such as payroll.

    The impact of DPI is most important for small, rural counties, said Mike Dunsmore, superintendent of Tyrrell County schools in northeastern North Carolina, which has 550 students and 22 kids in this year’s graduating class.

    “I have more black bears than we have people in Tyrrell County,” Dunsmore said.

    Dunsmore has cut 26 positions in the past five years, or 21 percent of the staff, he said. He has an assistant superintendent who also serves as his curriculum director, testing director, personnel director and his secretary.

    “DPI has been the lifeblood of my system for the five years that I have been there,” he said.

    Staff writer Jane Stancill

The national debate over Common Core education standards came to the floor of the state House on Wednesday, where a move to repeal and replace student goals for math and language arts achievement won approval in a 78-39 vote.

The House, where Republicans hold a majority, went against the state business community, education groups, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his state school board chairman, Bill Cobey, in calling for new standards for math and language arts. All Republicans and three Democrats voted for the measure.

The replacement for Common Core is unknown. The measure creates an advisory group that will make recommendations to the State Board of Education on new standards. Until the change, public schools are supposed to use Common Core.

Democrats said the decision injects uncertainty into North Carolina classrooms when teachers are already under pressure.

“I’m very, very nervous about how we’re going to be able to deal with this,” said Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat. “We’re going to get rid of a policy and we don’t have another policy.”

The State Board of Education approved Common Core in 2010, and all the state’s public schools have been using the standards for two years. Forty-four states and Washington, D.C., are using the guidelines.

The National Governors Association and a national organization representing state education leaders led their development.

The federal government did not require states to adopt the standards, but it encouraged them through the Race to the Top grant competition that awarded states millions for education changes. North Carolina won a $400 million grant.

“Forty-five states signed on to Common Core for the same reason North Carolina did – for a big check,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican. “We sold our kids’ education. We sold their futures for $400 million under a previous administration. Now what’s the price we pay for selling our souls?”

The standards have been criticized as being developmentally inappropriate in early grades. Conservative critics say that using national education standards violates the Constitution.

“It’s an assault on states’ rights and local control because it’s unconstitutional according to the 10th Amendment,” said Sheri Miller, state director of Concerned Women for America of North Carolina. The group has been working to repeal Common Core.

“We want to bring control of education back to North Carolina where it belongs.”

But the North Carolina Chamber argues that abandoning the standards will jeopardize the state’s recent economic progress.

“HB 1061 sends a signal to job creators in North Carolina and every state in the country that North Carolina is not ready to compete,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the Chamber, whose 35,000 members employ 1.26 million workers in the state.

Students would suffer in math

Debate about the standards enveloped the legislature Wednesday. In addition to the House debate, a Senate committee passed a version of the bill to replace the standards. The House and Senate bills are not identical, so the chambers will have to agree on one, or come to a compromise before a bill goes to McCrory.

It typically takes several years to change the standards as they go through reviews and revisions and teachers are trained to adjust class instruction to meet the educational goals. Bill sponsors say the conversation can be quicker than that.

A recent survey showed that 97 percent of teachers report that they have aligned their lesson plans and curriculum to the Common Core for reading and math and the other state essential standards in other subjects, said State Superintendent June Atkinson.

“To make our teachers go back to the drawing board would be another example of piling on, unnecessarily, more work, more frustration on the teachers of this state,” she said.

Atkinson said the state had spent $66 million from the federal Race to the Top grant on professional development for teachers on the Common Core.

“Where would we get money to do adequate professional development across this state for our teachers should we change the standards at this point?” she asked.

Students would suffer, too, she said, especially in math, which is a sequential subject. Changing the learning standards again, she said, would confuse children and set them back.

The Common Core is a set of academic goals set out by grade, not a curriculum.

But Kim Fink of New Bern, leader of a committee of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association, said Common Core goes beyond guidelines to suggested readings that she criticized as “anti-American,” where the Founding Fathers are discredited and literature is replaced by informational texts.

“This is teaching kids to hate our history,” Fink said. “It’s indoctrination.”

Business: Standards essential

The N.C. Chamber of Commerce, individual businesses and education groups are going all out to support Common Core with a public campaign. The effort includes a radio ad featuring the state Teacher of the Year Karyn Dickerson, a high school English teacher at Grimsley High School in Greensboro. In an interview, she said it would be difficult for teachers to deal with one more change.

“We’ve had change after change occur for the past few years,” Dickerson said. “I think that at this point teachers are starting to feel comfortable with the Common Core standards in their classrooms. They’re starting to see a lot of growth and gains in their students. And to have to change all of that, to restructure your class after working on that for three years, I think, would certainly only continue to decrease morale for our teachers.”

Businesses say the standards are essential to preparing students for college and work.

It is a competitiveness issue, said Jennifer Dunleavy, CEO of Raleigh-based Accuro, a recruiter for top talent in technology and other Fortune 500 businesses.

Too many companies are having trouble finding employees with the right skills, she said. “I believe that has direct correlation to our educational system and to the talent that we are developing at a very young age in our children.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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