Education commission recommends Common Core rewrite, rejects specific math replacements

Mackenzie Geiger explains her thinking to Cameron Tormone on a math problem in Dana Snapp's class at Fuquay-Varina Elementary School. Students there have been using Common Core Math for the past four years.
Mackenzie Geiger explains her thinking to Cameron Tormone on a math problem in Dana Snapp's class at Fuquay-Varina Elementary School. Students there have been using Common Core Math for the past four years.

A state commission voted Friday for a rewrite of student math and education goals known as Common Core, but rejected suggestions that the state adopt math standards from Minnesota for lower grades and replace high school math courses.

The outcome disappointed Common Core opponents, who wanted a firm statement on how the state should begin to restructure math education.

As a result of the commission’s action Friday, state education leaders have recommendations they can use to overhaul benchmarks for student progress in English and math.

But the Friday votes deleted specific suggestions for replacing math courses and standards, leaving the State Board of Education with much more discretion as it approaches a rewrite.

The Academic Standards Review Commission, the product of Common Core opposition, was appointed more than a year ago to come up with recommendations for changes.

The Common Core standards have set out what English and math knowledge and skills students should know by the end of each grade.

Commission members criticized those standards as unclear. Younger students, for example, are developmentally not prepared to handle some tasks required under the new standards, commission members said. The English language arts standards were judged to be overly dense, requiring teachers to cover too many topics in a year. The math standards were criticized as incomplete, with little to no instruction in important topics.

A workgroup led by commission member John T. Scheick wanted the state to adopt Minnesota math standards for kindergarten through eighth grades and have high school students go back to taking two algebra courses and a geometry course, rather than three integrated math courses as they do now.

The majority on the 11-member commission was uncomfortable with both those ideas and voted them down after lengthy debates and attempts at compromise.

Some of the members who voted against the math recommendations said they did not want to endorse another state’s math standards without knowing more about them.

Commission co-chairwoman Tammy Covil did not agree.

“I think our job was to be more specific,” said Covil, a New Hanover Board of Education member. She voted on the losing side of a proposal to adopt the original math recommendations, which would have backed the Minnesota standards and rejiggered high school math. “On the math, I think we have fallen short,” she said.

The commission is advisory – it is the State Board of Education’s job to adopt education standards. But legislators backing the commission made it clear that they want to get rid of Common Core.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Common Core opponent who attended the meeting, said a legislative education committee would be watching the State Board to see what changes it makes.

If lawmakers don’t like what the State Board does, the legislature “may decide we want to start all over,” Tillman said. “We have to look at it along a standard-by-standard basis,” the Archdale Republican said.

The commission is an outgrowth of a Common Core backlash that has preoccupied the state and swept the nation. Forty-six states adopted the standards beginning in 2010. Three states decided last year to drop them.

The commission got bogged down Friday over whether it would recommend keeping integrated high school math, or revert to teaching math topics in discrete geometry and algebra courses.

Scheick, a retired professor, said he was not opposed to integrated math, but some districts don’t do a good job teaching it.

He suggested at one point that the state go back to two algebra and a geometry course while the state fixes the integrated math standards. Then, districts could choose which approach they wanted.

“In the state of North Carolina, there are not that many well-qualified math teachers,” he said. “If the school teaches integrated math and has competent staff, they should be able to do it.”

Denise Watts, superintendent of Project LIFT in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, said flipping between the two approaches would be disruptive for students and teachers.

“Do one or the other,” she said. “Kids move – teachers move.”

The recommendations are the product of “a complex process with a complex set of needs to satisfy,” said Andre Peek, a retired IBM executive and a commission co-chairman. He said he hopes its work results in more flexibility for local school districts, clearer standards, and improved student learning.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner