Under the Dome

Teachers and school administrators talk Common Core with legislators

A legislative committee weighing the future of Common Core standards heard from a panel of teachers and principals with widely ranging views of the education goals for English and math.

Some on Thursdays panel said the goals were worthwhile, but were implemented too fast. Several lamented the lack of textbooks aligned to the new standards and inadequate teacher training.

“Training has been broad and vague and not focused on specific instructional techniques,” said Tammy Beach, a sixth grade math teacher in Caldwell County.

One administrator’s comments reflected a criticism heard nationally by some of the new standard’s ardent supporters – that they don’t offer much time for students to pick up new material and leave little chance for students who are behind to catch up.

“Time needs to be given to students to ensure that they have a solid foundation in the basics so that they can be successful with more difficult concepts and applications at the middle and high school level,” said Robin Layman, principal at Pinnacle Elementary School in Stokes County. “Common Core does not allow students the gift of extra time and support.”

The education standards for English and math have become controversial, not just in North Carolina, but around the country. The legislative committee intends to take some action, said one of its chairman, Rep. Bryan Holloway, but he didn’t specify what it would be. The committee can’t order changes to the standards, but can make recommendations to the legislature.

In 2010, North Carolina became one of the first states to vote to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. The state was revising its standards in all subject areas and at the time was working to win a federal Race to the Top education grant. The U.S. Department of Education offered extra points on grant applications to states that adopted the national standards.

The backlash against the standards began with tea party-associated groups that considered them an improper intrusion by the federal government. Critics now cover the political spectrum.

On Wednesday, the president of the National Education Association distributed a letter to members calling for a “course correction in Common Core,” because the implementation has been “completely botched” in too many states. The NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union, had been an ardent Common Core supporter.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, one of the state’s most prominent Common Core critics, recommended that the legislature reconvene an education standards and accountability commission to review each of the Common Core standards and decide whether they should be kept, altered or abandoned.

“We need North Carolina-designed standards, designed by North Carolina educators and professionals for North Carolina students,” Forest said.

Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, recommended the legislature create two permanent commissions that would modify or replace the Common Core standards, specify content to go along with the standards, recommend a testing program, and do ongoing reviews.

The commissions should be made up of teachers, administrators, curriculum experts parents, state education officials and others, he said.

“This is a huge undertaking,” that would probably take two to three years to complete, said Stoops. “I contend it is worth it. It is worth the effort.”

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