RALEIGH — North Carolina should break free of the so-called Common Core State Standards, which are tied to attempts to nationalize public school education requirements. That’s one of the key recommendations the John Locke Foundation’s new book makes for traditional district-run public schools.
First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina devotes a full chapter to reform measures for traditional public schools. Other recommended reforms target the state’s existing testing system, teachers’ credentials and pay, tenure, and the way state taxpayers fund public schools.
“While lawmakers should feel free to sever North Carolina’s ties to the Common Core State Standards, a number of the structural reforms outlined in this chapter address some of North Carolina’s most deeply embedded, and in some cases deeply cherished, practices,” said chapter author Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Research and Education Studies. “Indeed, one should not ‘take a stab’ at changing teachers’ salary schedule, tenure, or the state funding system. It will require surgical precision to restore the health of our public schools.”
Stoops leads his examination of district-run public schools with the Common Core State Standards. Developed by two Washington, D.C.-based groups, Common Core picked up the federal government’s endorsement in 2010. The feds urged states to adopt Common Core standards in return for a better chance at winning education grant money.
“Critics of the Common Core standards remind us there is no constitutional or statutory basis for national standards, national assessments, or national curricula,” Stoops said. “There is no consistent evidence that a national curriculum leads to high academic achievement. Plus the national standards on which the administration plans to base a national curriculum are inadequate.”
The Common Core standards face other objections as well, including one that affects the state’s bottom line, Stoops said. Estimates suggest North Carolina might need to spend $525 million over seven years, or $75 million a year, to adopt the standards.
“There is no money,” he said. “Given continuing fiscal pressures, states such as North Carolina can ill afford to appropriate tens of millions of dollars a year for new standards and tests.”
Since Common Core would require North Carolina to give up control of its public school curriculum and testing programs, at great expense and with “growing evidence that the quality of the standards is low,” Stoops concludes that North Carolina does not need Common Core. “North Carolinians should insist that our schools use world-class standards, curricula, and tests — nothing less.”
Speaking of world-class tests, Stoops devotes attention to North Carolina’s existing testing program. While he reserves judgment of the value of a new state-developed READY Accountability Model, Stoops endorses North Carolina’s use of national tests that will allow state-to-state comparisons.
Turning his attention to teachers, Stoops suggests it’s time to scrap the uniform teacher salary schedule North Carolina has used for a century. “A growing number of lawmakers and school officials are working to discard the one-size-fits-all salary schedule and implement comprehensive teacher pay programs that attract and reward excellence.”
First In Freedom critiques the state’s current teacher pay plan, including pay hikes tied to National Board Certification. Stoops also questions the benefits of the cumbersome state teacher certification process.
A section on instituting performance pay for teachers urges the state to focus on an existing resource. “North Carolina should select parts of the state’s new teacher evaluation system to use for a performance pay component,” Stoops said. “School and district administrators in our state has used the state’s Education Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS, since 2007. If the state wants to identify and reward the best teachers in the state, EVAAS data offer the best place to start.”
The book documents nationwide efforts to reform public school teachers’ tenure. Stoops highlights several recommendations for North Carolina from the National Council on Teacher Quality. “NCTQ criticizes North Carolina for failing to base tenure on student performance or teacher effectiveness,” he said. “Recommended improvements include ensuring evidence of teacher effectiveness, setting out a clear tenure process, and requiring a longer probationary period.”
Stoops also highlights recommendations for improving the way North Carolina funds traditional district-run public schools. “Rather than asking whether the state allocates ‘enough’ resources to provide children a quality education, we should be asking ‘how’ public schools spend their money.”
North Carolina should work to improve existing schools, even as it pursues school choice options outlined in a separate First In Freedom chapter, Stoops said. “Most parents will continue to choose to send their children to district-run schools,” he said. “As such, ensuring that all children receive a high-quality education requires much more than school choice. It requires rethinking the way that our traditional public school system delivers instruction, employs teachers, and allocates resources.”
Copies of First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina are available at the John Locke Foundation’s online store.