North Carolina Rethinks The Common Core

Jan 14, 2015
Originally published on January 25, 2015 3:49 pm

It's shaping up to be an interesting year for the Common Core, barely five years after 45 governors embraced it. A few states have already repealed the new math and reading standards. Others are pushing ahead with new tests, curriculum and teaching methods aligned to the Core.

And in some states, its future hangs in the balance. North Carolina is one of them.

It was one of the first states that quietly adopted the Common Core, and it moved quickly to put the standards in place.

As a result, Amy Cuthbertson says, she has become a better math teacher. The 21-year veteran points to the success she's having with her ninth-graders at Dalton L. McMichael High School in Rockingham County. Math scores here are up. Cuthbertson says that's in large part because students are learning how to apply advanced math concepts to the real world.

"The collaboration, teamwork, the problem-solving skills, the thinking-through and analysis that they're doing applies to everything we do in life," she says.

Not everybody is as impressed. State lawmakers say they've been besieged by parents who are unhappy with, or confused by, the homework they're seeing. Other critics see the Common Core as a Faustian bargain with Washington, which gave North Carolina $44 million to help implement the Core.

'Review And Replace'

"North Carolina sold her soul," says Jeannie Metcalf, a school board member from Winston-Salem, N.C. She co-chairs an 11-member commission that legislators created last July to "review and replace" the Common Core. That's what the legislation — Senate Bill 812 — says. But now there's a debate about what "review and replace" actually means.

To supporters of the core, it means the standards may need a tweak here and there. To opponents, it means they must be scrapped.

"That's clearly what we are charged with and the intent of the legislation and of the commission," says Metcalf.

The commission's co-chair, Andre Peek, disagrees.

"Do I believe that the Common Core standards need to be replaced? Are not good? No. I don't believe that at all," he says.

Peek, a retired IBM marketing executive, was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican and Common Core supporter. Peek says the commission's mandate is not to repeal the new standards but to answer some basic questions before schools move forward with them.

Questions like: Is the Common Core rigorous enough? Can people understand it? And has it been implemented in a way that's going to lead to the desired outcomes?

The review commission has all year to answer these questions and to hear from all kinds of experts, for and against the Common Core. A couple of surveys are also in the works to gauge teachers' and parents' views. In December, the commission will deliver its recommendations to the Legislature and state board of education. But in the meantime, the Common Core will remain firmly in place.

Peek says he's confident that the commission will reach a consensus if, and only if, it's based on the educational merits of the standards.

"And I can tell you right now that we're not going to be used as a tool for some political outcome," he says.

Peek's co-chair, Jeannie Metcalf, does not see a consensus brewing: "There's a chance anything can happen."

So, it's more than likely that the key question — Should North Carolina dump or keep the Common Core? — will remain unanswered, even after this new year has come and gone.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now the rise and possible fall of the Common Core. This year there will be plenty of debate that could determine the future of these math and reading standards. Not so long ago, 45 states embraced the Common Core, but some states are debating whether to pull back. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports on one of them.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: North Carolina was one of many states to quietly adopt the Common Core back in 2010, but no one put the new standards in place faster. They've shaped teacher training, the curriculum, and of course instruction.

AMY CUTHBERTSON: Since this is a -15x and I'm going to move this to the other side of the equation, I have to do the opposite operation. Remember we want to be fair and balanced here, so what we do to the left-hand side of the equation, we've got to do to the right.

SANCHEZ: Amy Cuthbertson swears she's become a better teacher because of the Core. The 21-year veteran teaches at Dalton L. McMichael High School in Rockingham County. Math scores here are up, and Cuthbertson says her ninth-graders are learning how to apply things like the quadratic formula to the real world.

CUTHBERTSON: The collaboration, the teamwork, the problem-solving skills, the thinking through, the analysis that they're doing applies to everything that we do in life.

SANCHEZ: Not everybody's impressed though. State lawmakers say they've been besieged by parents who are unhappy with, or at least confused by, the homework they're seeing. Other critics say the Common Core is a Faustian bargain with Washington, which gave North Carolina $44 million to implement the new standard.

JEANNIE METCALF: North Carolina sold her soul. And that's how I feel. This was done for the money.

SANCHEZ: Jeannie Metcalf is a school board member from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and co-chair of a commission that legislators created last July to, quote, "review and replace the Common Core standards." But there's now a debate about what review and replace means. To supporters of the Core, it means the standards may need a tweak here and there. To opponents, like Metcalf, it means they must be scrapped.

METCALF: That's clearly with what we are charged with and the intent of the legislation and of the commission.

ANDRE PEEK: Do I believe that the Common Core standards need to be replaced, are not good? No, I don't believe that at all.

SANCHEZ: That's Andre Peek, a retired IBM marketing executive and, like Metcalf, co-chair of the new review commission. He was appointed by Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican and Common Core supporter. Peek insists the commission's mandate is not to repeal but to answer some basic questions.

PEEK: Is the Common Core rigorous enough? Is it understandable to the citizenry of North Carolina? And has it been implemented in a way that's going to lead to the outcomes that we hope to achieve?

SANCHEZ: So what happens next? Well, the only thing that's clear is that the Common Core will remain firmly in place, at least until the commission wraps up its review, December, 2015. By then a slew of experts will have testified for and against the new standards, giving everybody on the commission a chance to hear what they want to hear. A couple of surveys are also in the works to gauge teachers and parent support. Peek says there's still time to reach a consensus if, and only if, it's based on the educational merits of the Common Core.

PEEK: I could tell you right now that we're not going to be used as a tool for some political outcome.

METCALF: There's a chance anything could happen.

SANCHEZ: But co-chair Jeannie Metcalf does not see a consensus brewing. So it's likely that the key question - should North Carolina dump or keep the Common Core? - will remain unanswered, even after this new year has come and gone. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.