Durham News: Opinion

Rod Powell: NC teachers and the Common Core – now what?

It’s already here – a new school year.

Despite a turbulent summer for North Carolina schools – in which legislators repealed the Common Core, slashed teacher assistant funding, and implemented a controversial teacher pay schedule – educators are back in the classroom, preparing students for a year of rigorous and engaging learning.

But as teachers begin their classes, many are asking the question, “What exactly should we be teaching our students?”

For the past three years, the answer was the Common Core. But now, thanks to the General Assembly, the work teachers have done to hone the standards is for naught.

Gov. Pat McCrory has called for a review of the Common Core, with a commission to put new standards in place for the 2015-16 school year.

But teachers can’t wait till 2015. We have students in our classrooms now. So what should we do? Do we spend countless hours planning our instruction and lesson plans for this year’s classes, only to have to overhaul them for entirely new standards just one year from now?

State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson assures educators that North Carolina will still operate under the Common Core for this school year. I hope teachers can take her at her word. But that doesn’t change the millions of dollars that have gone into developing Common Core materials and professional development – not to mention the thousands of hours that hardworking North Carolina teachers have dedicated to refining their craft and implementing the standards.

All that money and effort – what a waste.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with my teaching colleagues about this murky situation as we prepare for the school year.

Take one enthusiastic, first-year English teacher, for example. She graduated from a teacher education program that was specifically designed for a Common Core high school classroom. What do we tell her now?

Now, I’m confident this particular newcomer to the profession will excel as a teaching professional. She’s intelligent, has great support and mentors, and clear ideas about education. For example, she pointed out that, even though our state has repealed the standards, there’s no fence keeping our students inside North Carolina. Some will move away to other states that have the Common Core, and, ultimately, all students will need the 21st-century skills embedded within the standards. It’s provincial to think otherwise.

The Common Core provided consistency and a curricular anchor for new teachers like my new colleague – as well as teaching veterans like me. The standards helped us push our students further and shape them into global citizens for the 21st century.

North Carolina teachers will continue to adapt our lessons to meet students’ needs, like we have always done. But having the most powerful resource at our disposal – the Common Core – suddenly taken away from us feels like a punch in the gut.

So will this school year be a lost year for our students?

I certainly hope not – they can’t afford it.

Rod Powell is a nationally board-certified teacher with 28 years of teaching experience. He teaches social studies in Mooresville, N.C., and is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory.