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There appears to be some confusion about who is responsible for bringing the Common Core State Standards to North Carolina.  In this week’s CommenTerry, I take a look back at the adoption of Common Core by the N.C. State Board of Education.

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Recently, I have encountered folks who blame the N.C. General Assembly for introducing the Common Core State Standards to North Carolina.  The truth is that the appointed members of the N.C. State Board of Education (SBE), under the leadership of former N.C. SBE chairman Bill Harrison, were responsible for adopting and implementing Common Core standards.

Admittedly, some of this confusion can be blamed on my September 2013 Spotlight report, 60 Questions About Common Core: Answers for North Carolinians.  In that piece, I identified a handful of state legislators — Rep. Hugh Blackwell, Rep. Bryan Holloway, Sen. Jerry Tillman, Sen. Jean Preston, and Sen. Dan Soucek — who inserted Common Core in legislation they sponsored during the 2011-12 session.  It appears that, in an attempt to be succinct, I may have confused some readers.

So, let me say this definitively. Their legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly did not lead to the adoption of Common Core standards.  A vote by the members of the N.C. State Board of Education did that.

In 2009, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, Governor Bev Perdue, and Chairman Harrison began championing Common Core, and the N.C. SBE formally adopted the standards in June 2010.  Curiously, the state education board adopted Common Core largely without input from the then-Democratic led state legislature, which shifted to Republican control later that year.

In fact, the adoption of Common Core Standards in English and mathematics escaped the notice of most North Carolinians.  There were a few reasons for this. First, the adoption of new standards had seldom been newsworthy in the past.  Policy wonks and public school employees were the obvious exceptions to this rule, but neither have a platform large enough to bring these changes to the attention of the public.   

Second, the mainstream media did a poor job of covering the deliberation, adoption, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards in North Carolina.  I found only a handful of newspaper articles that mentioned the adoption of the standards in 2010 (See Quotes of the Week below).  I would classify most of the articles as informational or cheerleading.  None of them offered a fair and balanced examination of the standards, even though it was the first time that the state adopted standards written by an external entity. 

Finally, parents did not notice changes in classroom instruction until the standards were fully implemented.  By the time that the media acknowledged that Common Core was controversial enough to warrant their attention, it was too late.

This helps to explain why Republican legislators included Common Core language in their legislation.  During the initial year of its implementation, many Republicans (and Democrats) believed that Common Core was just another innocuous iteration of academic standards developed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and adopted by the N.C. SBE. 

Obviously, members of the N.C. General Assembly did not begin receiving complaints until parents starting witnessing their children struggle with Common Core-inspired lessons.  Soon after concerns from their constituents began to fill their mailboxes and inboxes, Reps. Blackwell and Holloway and Sens. Tillman and Soucek probably wished for a "do over."

Starting in May, they will get their chance.  The Short Session will provide them an opportunity to eliminate references to Common Core in state statute.  It would be an easy (and extremely popular) fix that would start the process of ensuring that our public schools have the most rigorous, coherent, and functional standards in the nation.

In sum, there was no conspiracy among the Republican leadership to quietly insert Common Core into state statute, as some have claimed.  There was no political benefit to doing so.  I suspect that they simply wanted to ensure that state law was consistent with the actions of the N.C. SBE.  If that was the case, then trusting policy decisions made by state education leaders was their big mistake. 

Lesson learned.

Facts and Stats

All of the cool kids are reading my newest Spotlight report, "Common Core State Standards: The way forward."

Education Acronym of the Week

CCSS — Common Core State Standards

Quotes of the Week

  • May 2010, Asheville Citizen-Times: "North Carolina has been working to revise its curriculum. It is also among 48 states working on common core standards."
  • June 2010, Wilmington Star News: "[Common Core] aims to replace a hodgepodge of educational goals varying wildly from state to state with a uniform set of expectations for students."
  • June 2010, News & Observer: "The national ‘common core’ standards adopted last week by North Carolina education officials should help keep this state’s public schools out of the ideological ditch, whether on the right or the left."
  • July 2010, News & Record: "In contrast, the new national benchmarks, called the Common Core State Standards, scored a B-plus for English language arts and A-minus for math – in both cases far superior to the current North Carolina standards, the report said."
  • August 2010, Charlotte Observer: "Gains may evaporate once the national Common Core State Standards that North Carolina agreed to in June are used to develop state tests."
  • December 2010, Durham Herald-Sun: "The Common Core State Standards were adopted by the North Carolina Board of Education in June and take effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year."

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