Legislators ease education standards

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Jun 09, 2014
Photo by: File photo Cecilia Ruth Marcus teaches a social studies class earlier this year at Tuscola High School.

Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature have passed bills that may soon end the state’s involvement in Common Core educational standards.

The tougher new education standards for math and language arts at all grade levels were approved in North Carolina in 2010, and were implemented in the 2012-13 academic year, which allowed time for teacher training.

The standards resulted from a cooperative effort of 46 states and were aimed at better preparing students for jobs in today's workforce. Learning expectations are higher under the Common Core standards than the previous ones used in the state and are aimed at developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The standards have generated complaints from parents, some teachers and others who find the new teaching/learning methods too difficult.

Now, legislators are ready to develop a new set of learning guidelines.

“I’m saddened that so much misinformation and issues dealing with education have been piled on the common core standards,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said Tuesday after HB1061 bill was sent to the House floor. “While I believe that we never have perfect standards, we have not let the cycle of using these standards to complete its course.”

HB1061, which passed Wednesday at a 78-39 vote, will create new standards for math and language arts with help of an Academic Standards Review Commission that will be formed.

Senate Bill 812, a companion bill to change the state's education standards, passed on Thursday. There will be a conference committee to iron out the final language before it will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for a signature. The governor has voiced support of the Common Core standards in the past. While there is a veto-proof Republican majority in the General Assembly, there were a number of House Republicans who voted against changes to the standards.

Sen. Jim Davis voted in favor of the bill, and said he was not surprised that it passed in a 33-15 vote.

"It’s still maintains strong standards for North Carolina education, but it doesn’t tie us to every part of the common core standards," Davis said. "Some of those issues are problematic. We believe those standards would be tailor made to North Carolina."

When asked whether he thought Gov. McCrory would sign or veto the bill, Davis said he was unsure.

"I wouldn't want to speak for him," he said. "Whenever he signs a bill it’s a different. It’s hard to judge because he may just not like one of the amendments. The bill has changed so he may agree with it."

Under both bills, common core standards will remain in place for the next academic year while new guidelines are written.

“There are 95,000 teachers in this state,” Atkinson said. “Whenever new standards are developed, it takes money, time and resources for all the teachers to be able to implement the new standards.”

Implementing new standards will require schools to offer professional development training to its teachers and personnel. Atkinson said her big question was where the money would come from to fund professional development.

“The General Assembly has not given school districts money for professional development for the past three years,” she said. “It is only because we received a grant from the federal government that has allowed us to do professional development.”

Common core conflict

The common core standards have been in place in North Carolina for math and English/language arts since 2010, and the state began implementing the new standard course of study in the classroom during the 2012-13 school year.

The debate surrounding the common core is causing frustrations for many Haywood County Schools officials and parents.

“We’re disappointed that they just keep changing the curriculum on us and changing the test to match the curriculum,” said Bill Nolte, associate superintendent. “By the time we get something implemented, they move the target again. If they just establish something that’s good and sound and let us teach it, we’d be pleased.”

On one side, some parents are against common core, claiming that it complicates simple learning methods; on the other hand school officials believe more challenging standards are a good thing.

“If the state legislature wants to change the common core to make it even more rigorous, then I think that’s a good idea. If it’s being changed because people don’t understand it, then I would challenge them to look up the standards and tell me which standard is a problem,” Nolte said.

Common core standards are meant to be more rigorous than the old state standards. Students are supposed to develop a deeper understanding and learn to problem solve. The goal is to better prepare them for college or a career.

Opponents of the common core say the rules have created confusion among teachers and students, and the bill could possibly lead to lower academic standards and performance. However, supporters say the common core just needs to be given time to work.

Lara Earnest, third-grade teacher at Jonathan Valley Elementary School, said she didn't see a need to drop the common core.

“I am in my third year of teaching the common core,” Earnest recently posted on the Mountaineer’s Facebook page. “I am a little baffled by the amount of opposition to it. There are some problems with it, as there have been with every state curriculum I have ever seen. But all in all, the changes that are needed are fairly small. It's hard to know how well any curriculum works when you constantly change it. It would be nice to stick with something long enough to actually see it have an impact. My students are understanding math better now.”

What is common core?

Nolte said the common core were developed by 46 governors of various political parties as well as 46 state superintendents who had been appointed by various political parties or publicly elected.

“It’s really not controlled by one party or one person,” Nolte said. “It’s certainly not controlled by the department of education.”

The common core standards are intended to be more stringent, but they focus on simple concepts.

The common core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students are asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills that promote success in college, careers and life.

The common core also concentrates on a clear set of math skills and concepts. Students learn concepts in a more organized way both during the school year and across grades.The standards encourage students to solve real-world problems.

Nolte said he didn’t see anything wrong with promoting a deeper, more rigorous understanding of math and reading.

“The standards are about understanding math algorithms,” Nolte said. “They’re about being able to read literature and comprehend what the literature has in it and then being able to go back to the text and point out reasons why the literature means a particular thing. ... It has nothing to do with history or religion or a lot of the stuff that’s floating around on social media.”

Too rigorous for children?

One criticism has been that the common core asks too much of younger children.

Earnest agrees that some aspects of the common core are challenging for her students, but she still doesn’t advocate them being eliminated.

“There are a few things in the language arts curriculum that I feel are inappropriate for certain ages,” Earnest noted, adding that myths being taught in third grade was tough because students are too young for such formal vocabulary. “But all in all, I think it would be a mistake to switch so soon after implementation. I will say this: the curriculum that I think needs to be changed first is the elementary levels of science, and those aren't common core at all.”

Teachers evaluate whether students have met the standards in the same way they have always done  — using end-of-course tests, school projects and other assessments during the year.

But local parent Nicole Kott Schreiber of Waynesville says the common core makes learning subjects like math more difficult for children. As a home school parent of two, she is an advocate of the simpler methods so that parents can be a part of their child’s learning process.

“Common Core elongates the process. I think teaching all methods is important. But the main method should be the simplest. Plus, many parents are unable to help with the math problems. That is devastating. It's important we keep these methods we’ve had for years.” Schreiber said.

Schreiber chose to teach her children at home because she didn’t approve of the school’s new standards, including the common core.

Rather than have one teacher assigned to teach 20 students at one time, Schreiber said she accomplishes much more in a day while working one-on-one with her children. Her daughter, Savannah, is 6 years old and her son, Robert, is 3.

“As of now I will never put (Savannah) in public school,” Schreiber said. “All of her friends are in public school and I hear the parents constantly complaining about the common core — they don’t know how to help with homework so they have to sit down with their teachers to be able to help them.”


Comments (11)
Posted by: Doris Hammett | Jun 10, 2014 05:25

June 10, 2014

Dear Editor:

            I hope your headline “Legislators ease education standards” is incorrect.  I am distressed that our General Assembly would “dumb down” the standards by creating new standards for math and language arts with the help of an Academic Standards Review Commission which has yet to be appointed.  Common Core standards were developed by a cooperative effort of 46 states and with the best education talent that the nation has to offer.

            Common core standards were set better to prepare students for college, career and life. If a school, class, teacher, students or parent are having difficulty with the new wider vision of common core, help must be available. The General Assembly would better serve our students by making this professional help available at every level:  communities, educators, teachers, students and parents. Use our education money wisely, not by lowering the standards.

            North Carolina is a leader in education.  Let us prove that this is so.

Doris B. Hammett, MD

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 10, 2014 09:53

             If you have been following cases from other states, it is quite clear what is going on. In order to meet the demands of the religious home and or private schoolers, the teaching of evolution must be eliminated as well as other classes that the home schoolers and or private schoolers are not qualified to teach. In other words instead of spending the money to properly educate North Carolina's kids to certain agreed to standards, they are shifting OUR taxes to schools that either refuse to teach the agreed to curriculum or cannot teach it. We are lowering OUR standards to accommodate home and or private schools while using the excuse that OUR kids aren't smart enough to pass Common Core standards.

           The current right-wing legislatures are quite good at hiding their intentions in mumbo jumbo. Often as not, it is what they don't tell that tells the tale. Other time's people like john hood give themselves away with discreet prejudice.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 10, 2014 14:27

I, sir, homeschool my children.  Using a State-proctored standardized test as a measure, I teach my children two grade levels higher than any public school teacher was able to accomplish using the NC public school system methodology.  I have earned the right to speak with authority on the matter of how the school system was "only" able to "teach" my child with straight "A"s and not beyond.  And I just don't trust the public school system to define "good enough" as measured by report cards or standardized tests.  Our graduating students rank lower than most in the industrialized world.  Thanks, but if you want something done right, do it yourself.  Too much red tape, too much bureaucracy, too many people throwing their input into requirements of what teachers must satisfy.  In my homeschool, my children learn.  I bet if you give any teacher the freedom to teach and take away the "regulation", they too could perform as well as we do in homeschool.


That being said, I don't yet see a competent plan regarding education.  Only that when you take money/power/influence from those that currently have it, they make lots of noise.  It would help if we had a clear vision of where we're going with education reform.

Posted by: John C Sanderson | Jun 10, 2014 19:18

"It would help if we had a clear vision of where we're going with education reform."


Well, don't hold your breath for that vision to emerge. Creating a vision depends upon the existence of an honest and sincere desire to do so. I'm afraid that politics, and the desire for power and money (generally quite closely connected to politics), are driving most of the so-called "education reform" efforts today. Too many corporate and financial entities today see education as a very attractive "growth industry" (e.g., testing, test prep, "virtual schooling," curricula designed for home schools or charters, and so on). The problem being, of course, that any "profits" they realize in this "industry" come directly from the taxpayer dollars that once were available to fund traditional schools. So, I think a vision does exist, but it's not one that any of these potential profiteers wants to make very clear to anyone else.


I applaud you, by the way, for your home schooling efforts, as I am sure I would applaud Ms. Schreiber (from the article). As a former school principal, I always tried to work with any parents who felt the need to home school their children. So, I have rarely felt any ill-will toward those who home school their children, because I know it can be a very good choice for those parents with the financial means, the time, and the level of personal education necessary to provide a sound educational experience for their children. Most parents, however, lack at least one of those minimally necessary prerequisites for what I consider a quality home schooling experience, so the public schools do the best they can do to provide a quality schooling experience for everyone depending upon them. Public schools have an almost impossible task given them, however - i.e., successfully educating each and every child who presents him/herself at the school door. And that already challenging task is made immeasurably more difficult every time another politically motivated edict is passed down from the legislature.


Yes, let's once again treat teachers like the responsible, adult professionals they are, and stop with the micromanaging from Raleigh. Wouldn't it be great if all of our collective energies could be focused on the task of creating educational experiences and opportunities in this state that met the needs of every child. That's actually the existing goal, you know. But our focus has been clouded, and our energies have been sapped by the incessant politicization of education. Yes, let's let teachers teach, and see what happens.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 11, 2014 08:22

                Mr. Lilly;


                 What do your kids know about evolution? Or "the Social Contract"?

                  By removing your kids from OUR public school system, you have removed yourself as well. No you should not have any say in how OUR system of public education is run.

                  In too many instances too many so-called home-schoolers have failed to properly educate their kid(s). As in the case of my cousins there have been several documented cases whereby parents lay a King James edition of the bible on a table and direct their kids that all the information they need is in it. Most parents simply are not qualified to properly teach what We the people require. As kids under the age of consent are not responsible for their own lives but subject to supervision of US, We can and do require certain standards to be taught. It is detrimental to OUR future as a secular republic not to. But there is the problem. Home-schoolers and or private religious schools don't want to teach the principles of OUR Founding as it has been documented, such as the Deistic notion of Naturally inherent or otherwise inalienable rights, or the several means OUR Founders used to separate the church from the state, nor the Unitarian opinion that Jesus was just a man that  was prevelent among many of OUR Founders. These people want to deviate from US. They do not participate in nor teach E. Pluribus Unum(out of many one), but instead demand to be an island unto themselves. AND! By claiming "taxes follow the child" want US to pay for their imposed deviance and ignorance.

            Liberty has a price. Either you willingly pay the price in its support or you are its detractor.



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 11, 2014 08:35

            The intent of those opposed to US has been clear for a long time. A koch brother laid it out when he ran for vice-president many years ago. No public assistance programs. No public schools. Every aspect of governance should be for profit. Etc. Etc.

             The father of the koch's help start the John Birch Society which spawned many of the right-wing nut-job groups We are having to contend with today. 

             art pope has also embraced such nonsense. By his actions he is intent on achieving what most progressive liberals consider to be a dismantling of US. Public schools, unions, public transportation, Medicare/Medicaid, Unemployment benefits, Social Security, etc will be nonexistent. And! "trickle-down" whereby workers are having to pay to work will be the norm.



Posted by: Joe Vescovi | Jun 11, 2014 10:59

Any teacher I know would love to have a classroom of 1 - 3 children so they could teach one on one.  They wouldn't have to deal with the delinquent who wants to disrupt every teaching lesson or the child who is hungry and can't concentrate or the needy child from an abusive home.  A loving parent teaching his children is one thing but comparing those results to a teacher with a classroom of 30 children  with all different abilities and home lives is quite different. I truly respect any person who goes into the teaching profession today.  Times have changed and the rewards are few.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 11, 2014 17:00

"deal with the delinquent who wants to disrupt every teaching lesson" -- The right-wing influence of my thought process says public schools and teachers ought to be providing a quality education opportunity.  There should be no mandate for teachers to dilute their limited time/resources on those "disruptive students".  But then, I'd be guilty of piling on more "requirements" and "opinions" on teachers.  Let teachers teach.  Those that don't care to participate should have the freedom to opt out leaving the teacher to provide their quality service.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 12, 2014 07:48

             N.C. requires all kids under the age of consent be taught. How any teacher reacts to disruption is an indicator of their abilities. They most certainly are not afforded the luxuries of home or private schoolers who are not limited by OUR Constitutions.





Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 12, 2014 08:02

Teachers must leave no child behind -- even disrupters.  Yes, that effects all of their students.  Therefore, those disrupters take from the rests of us.  Left-Wing believes we have to keep taking from some to make equal others.  Right-Wing believe you provide the same opportunity for all, and you let them be free to participate completely, just a little, or not at all.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 13, 2014 08:37

      Equal protection from oppression requires all pay in direct proportion to what they earn.

      Disrupters may be expelled if necessary. They then become their parents problem.



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