North Carolina Nervous About Ditching Common Core Standards

North Carolina Nervous About Ditching Common Core Standards

On Tuesday North Carolina’s House Education Committee voted 27-16 to require state officials to begin studying replacement standards for the Common Core, though it appears lawmakers are anxious about breaking completely from the nationalized standards.

The bill, HB 1061, which heads to the House Appropriations Committee prior to landing on the House floor, states that during the coming school year, the State Board of Education shall:

(4) Remove the Common Core copyright and any references to the Common Core Standards from the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in English Language Arts and in Mathematics to ensure North Carolina’s sovereign right to modify standards to best meet the needs of North Carolina’s citizens.

The bill would create an Academic Standards Review Commission to design education standards specific to the needs of North Carolina students.

Despite the bill’s emphasis on North Carolina’s “sovereign right” to have its own standards, reports that state Rep. Bryan Holloway (R) said the bill would not allow an immediate transition away from Common Core because North Carolina does not want to have to return $400 million in federal Race to the Top (RttT) education grants it accepted that were tied to the nationalized standards.

“We’re telling them not to move down the Common Core road. We want them to take another direction,” Holloway said. “We’re not trying to weaken standards. We actually would prefer to have even stronger standards.”

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, however, nationally recognized academic standards expert who has testified in numerous states about the Common Core, wrote at Breitbart News in March:

Can the U.S. Department of Education (USED) demand repayment from states that got RttT funds? Can it withhold Title I money from a state that loses its waiver? It is important to recall that Congress didn’t pass legislation requiring Common Core’s standards or tests. All it authorized in 2001 was a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESEA hasn’t been re-authorized since then, so there are no new or different education policies passed by Congress. A variety of conditions have been attached to the recent waivers issued by USED, but they may have no constitutional legitimacy since Congress didn’t approve them. States can certainly raise that objection.

“If a state received RttT money and spent it, it most likely doesn’t have to pay it back if it now seeks to opt out of using Common Core’s standards (by any name) and any tests aligned to or based on these standards,” Stotsky continued. “Neither the RttT application nor the grant award from USED contained a repayment penalty for withdrawing from a commitment. Moreover, the Grant Award Notification from USED implied withholding of future RttT funds, not repayment of RttT funds already expended.” 

She concluded:

In other words, there seem to be no likely penalties if a state accepted a USED award of RttT funds and now chooses to withdraw from the agreement. States can justify their withdrawal on the grounds that the Common Core standards do not meet the original requirements of “common standards” outlined in the RttT application. These standards were supposed to be “supported by evidence that they are internationally benchmarked.” But they are not. The Common Core Validation Committee never received any evidence.  

Nor has evidence been provided by two post hoc attempts to provide such evidence: the 2011 report by David Conley at the University of Oregon and the 2012 report by William Schmidt and a colleague at Michigan State University, Richard Houang. Conley’s report, funded by the Gates Foundation, contradicted the findings in his 2003 pre-Common Core report on college-readiness standards, while Schmidt and Houang’s report has been severely criticized on methodological grounds. It is unclear who funded it.

Moreover, RttT was a three-year program extended to last four years. It expires in the fall of 2014. Whatever changes states make after 2014 cannot affect the grant. In addition, no state committed itself explicitly to maintain forever the new policies required by RttT. Once RttT grants expire, it is unclear how the USED could demand repayment for an expired program.

The House bill calls for a halt to any implementation of Common Core in North Carolina schools, but an amendment, offered by state Rep. Paul Tine (D) – labeled a “catfish amendment” by Holloway because it would essentially gut the House proposal – would permit schools to continue with Common Core until alternatives are studied.

Holloway admitted that, under the House legislation, pieces of Common Core might still be adopted though the bill would prevent the new standards from being a rebrand of Common Core.

Lew Ebert, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Chamber, an ardent supporter of Common Core, said in a statement, “Abruptly abandoning the standards and implementation process adopted by the legislature in 2011 will jeopardize North Carolina’s economic and education progress in recent years.”

“House Bill 1061 waives [sic] the white flag and sends a signal to job creators in North Carolina and every state in the country that North Carolina is not ready to compete,” Ebert added. “This legislation is not only a step backward for our classrooms, but it is a step backward for our manufacturing floors to the research labs and garages where the next big ideas are being born.”

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said he supports high academic standards but wants to focus on implementation and execution with regard to testing.

“I think the issue is not the high standards, which we have to have. I think the issue [sic] the implementation and execution, especially with regard to testing,” McCrory said. “I hope they focus more on the testing and the implementation of the testing rather than the concept of requiring high standards, especially in math and reading.”

The North Carolina state Senate is expected to take up its own bill to repeal Common Core on Wednesday.