N.C. Education: Where is it headed?

A North Carolina state commission is developing a new curriculum for math and English students after the state halted the implementation of the Common Core standards.

The state legislature and Governor Pat McCrory passed legislation over the summer that could potentially remove North Carolina from the national guidelines, a move that would require new math and English curriculums for its public schools and could potentially cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding. The Common Core program has been criticized by some as a federal intrusion of education with excessive standardized testing.

Graphic by Ian Rutledge/Old Gold & Black

Graphic by Ian Rutledge/Old Gold & Black

Education professor Scott Baker explained that the standards are not a national program but rather a set of curriculum guidelines used by the states. The idea originated from the National Governors’ Association and are not run by a federal administration.

“Under the tenth amendment to the United States constitution, powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states. Education is not a constitutionally delegated federal power so it has traditionally been a state and local responsibility” Baker said. “The Common Core is consistent with that tradition.”

However, Baker said that many teachers are also upset over the amount of standardized testing and that many teachers’ organizations do not hold President Obama or his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in high regard. Last week, the Camel City Dispatch reported that North Carolina had already spent $72 million of federal money in preparation for the Common Core in addition to $68 million from local districts. According to Baker, North Carolina may lose these federal funds because of the decision to leave the Common Core standards.

“It is unclear if the federal government will be requesting money back or how they would get it back since North Carolina has already spent a lot of it” Baker said. “We are really operating on the realm of the things that are just playing out and we don’t have clear analysis of the effects.”

Opponents of the Common Core argue that the standards are too difficult and negatively impact student achievement. However, Baker defended the difficult nature of the guidelines.

According to Baker, the Obama administration established the “Race to the Top” to provide positive incentives for states to adopt the Common Core and replace “No Child Left Behind”, a federal initiative signed into law with broad bipartisan support by George W. Bush in 2002. NCLB aimed to get American children proficient in all subjects by 2014, something that Baker called “a fantastically unrealistic goal” and allowed states to cheat the system of federal subsidies.

“One of the problems with ‘No Child Left Behind’ was that in order to receive federal funding, states had to make ‘adequate yearly progress.’ States pushed the standards down so that more students would be declared proficient” Baker said. “Then people started looking at how state proficiency rates compared to independent evidence. In many states, there were wide differences between the ‘proficiency rates’ which tended to be 80 to 90 percent and the [independent evidence] which were half of that.”

Baker believes that these past problems justify the difficult standards as they give a true measure of proficiency across state lines.

“So the Common Core standards are high, but that is a good thing. You want to challenge students, but you don’t want to discourage them. It’s about finding that place in between.”

At its peak, the Common Core had been adopted by 45 states, but would drop to 42 if North Carolina chooses to implement its own statewide curriculum. It would join the Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and Virginia, the current seven states who have not adopted the standards.

Baker reports that moderates in both parties tend to embrace the curriculum guidelines.

“There is a curious political alliance that supports the Common Core. It includes big Fortune 500 businesses” Baker said. “They think that higher standards will make for more productive workers and that standards are too lower in American schools. We rank, in international comparisons, in the middle and the businesses believe this is an effort to produce higher levels of achievement, though it is not clear to me that we have done that yet.”

Baker said that the 2014 elections results and future standardized test results would have a major impact on whether other states choose to withdraw from the Common Core. For those states that have already withdrawn, their outlook is in doubt and it is unknown how they will proceed.

“As a Republican in North Carolina, I think it is a great idea to allow for localities and townships to determine what resources they need to make their schools and students successful. Common Core had students learning general information that is not applicable in the work force, which is the ultimate goal of education,” said Ashon Harrell, executive member of College Republicans.

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