Policy Position

Common Core State Standards

in Education


Updated as of January 2020.

Common Core State Standards are mathematics and English language arts standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. They were developed by three Washington, D.C.-based organizations — the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc. The Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also funded a significant portion of the project but later focused its education reform efforts elsewhere.

In June 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education formally adopted the standards, largely without input from the then Democrat-led state legislature, North Carolina educators, and the public. North Carolina was one of the first states to adopt the standards and did so, in part, to improve the state’s chances of obtaining one of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grants, which North Carolina received shortly after.

Although the adoption of new standards had seldom been newsworthy in the past, a debate about the Common Core Standards intensified in 2012. Parents and concerned citizens began to speak out about detrimental changes in math and English instruction, unacknowledged costs of adoption, lack of transparency, and unwelcome involvement of the federal government.

In response, legislators passed a bill that requires the State Board of Education to obtain approval from the General Assembly for the adoption of any Common Core-based testing program. Additionally, the General Assembly created the Academic Standards Review Commission, an appointed group of educators, elected officials, and citizens that convened in 2014 to review the English and math standards. The commission’s 2015 report recommended superficial changes to the standards.

There is no indication the state legislature will support an outright repeal of the standards, despite the introduction of legislation that would do so. Nevertheless, changes have occurred. The State Board of Education approved revisions to the English and elementary and middle school math standards in 2017. The revised standards for both subjects were implemented during the 2018-19 school year.

Key Facts

  • Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Schools, and four U.S. territories have adopted Common Core standards for one or both subjects. Many states, including North Carolina, have modified the standards since adoption.
  • Although the research literature is very limited, studies suggest the Common Core Standards did not improve student achievement. In an empirical study published in 2019, researchers with the American Institutes for Research concluded, “Contrary to our expectation, we found that the CCR standards had significant negative effects on 4th graders’ reading achievement during the 7 years after the adoption of the new standards, and had a significant negative effect on 8th graders’ math achievement 7 years after adoption based on analyses of NAEP composite scores.”
  • The federal government has bankrolled the development of Common Core tests. The Education Department distributed $360 million in grants to members of two state consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). To date, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Bureau of Indian Education, and the Department of Defense Education Activity use at least a portion of the PARCC testing program. Thirteen states, Bureau of Indian Education, and U.S. Virgin Islands are members of SBAC. North Carolina is a former member of SBAC but never adopted its tests.
  • The 2018 EdNext Poll found that 45 percent of respondents supported Common Core, while 38 percent opposed it. Support was highest among Hispanics (59 percent support) and lowest among Republicans (38 percent support). Less than half of the public school teachers surveyed for the poll said they supported Common Core.


  1. The Department of Public Instruction should be relieved of the responsibility of developing academic standards for the state’s public schools. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction readily admits state-authored standards lacked the rigor of the Common Core Standards. As such, it makes little sense to entrust the agency with a task — development of rigorous, clear, and coherent standards — that it has failed to perform adequately in the past.
  2. Legislators should create two permanent commissions charged with raising the quality and rigor of state English language arts and mathematics standards, as well as curricula and assessments. The goals of the commissions would be to 1) modify substantially or replace the Common Core State Standards; 2) specify content that aligns with the standards; 3) recommend a valid, reliable, and cost-effective testing program; and 4) provide ongoing review of the standards, curriculum, and tests throughout implementation.
  3. Any review of the Common Core State Standards should employ a large and diverse group of stakeholders. This includes teachers, administrators, curriculum and content area experts, policy professionals, practitioners, parents, community leaders, school board members, state education officials, and state legislators.

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