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NC Commission Wants Big Changes To Common Core

Glenwood Elementary students
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

 A state commission reviewing the Common Core standards is proposing major changes to the Math and English goals.

The 11-member group presented draft recommendations on Monday that call for a restructuring of high school math, a stronger emphasis on writing and, overall, clearer goals that are more “developmentally appropriate.” 

Before the group unveiled its big ideas at yesterday’s meeting, members invited a woman named Carole Ardizzone to speak. 

“So let’s look at the brain, this is a cerebral cortex, housing the cerebrum…” she explained, while pointing to a visual diagram.

She gave the politically appointed group a crash course on how the brain works.

“Because all learning takes place in the brain,” she said. “How on earth can we educate if we do not understand how this receptacle works?”

Ardizzone is a former educator who once helped write standards for New York. During her presentation she picked apart some of the Common Core goals for students, like this one for first-graders.

“Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure,” she said.

A few conservative critics in the front row chuckled.

“Write an opinion? Do you know what high level thinking that is, for you to take somebody else’s thoughts or ideas and write your opinion, when a child doesn’t even know for sure what an opinion is?” she asked.

“We have people in the legislature who can’t do that!” a commission member added, as people in the room broke into laughter.  

Olivia Oxendine, a member of the commission and the state Board of Education, said the problem with that standard for six-year-olds is not the expectation, but how it’s worded.

“All of this verbiage in this standards, I think somebody is just going overboard to give this false impression of rigor,” she said.

North Carolina and many other states have seen a backlash against Common Core since it was first introduced a few years ago.  Since last year, commission members have been inviting experts and collecting teacher surveys to help guide them in changing the standards.

In their draft recommendations, members said there are too many English standards to fit a school year, and that writing has fallen by the wayside. Member Jeffrey Isenhour, a high school principal, explained that if the state develops more concise writing goals, then other standards or topics have to be taken off the table.

“Because in order to teach writing and to teach it well, you have to give feedback. So, based in the current paradigm we’re in… That is impossible,” he said.

The recommendations also suggest better sequencing the standards and establishing minimum goals for each grade level, including the amount of reading. 

In terms of how to change math goals, the ideas are a bit more drastic.

“We just said, you know, ‘heck with it.’ Just go back to the old way until you can figure out a better way,” said commission member Ted Scheik, a retired math professor.

He said in high school, teachers hop from one topic to another and that the state should return to teaching Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 in that order. He also suggested replacing the K-8 math standards with Minnesota's, which he says are clear and concise. 

A small crowd attended the meeting. A group of conservative critics sat at the front, as they always do, nodding their heads in agreement. At the very back, Ned McMillan, a retired fourth and fifth grade math teacher from Greensboro, had a different opinion.

“Essentially what we need is tweaking, rather than substantially changing what we’re using,” he said. “The idea that we could redo standards is just absurd.”

McMillan argued that the standards are sound. He said teachers have put too much time and energy into adapting to Common Core.

“So that’s the hidden cost of this reform movement… Now everything we have resource-wise is going to have to be modified. Who knows how much that’s going to cost,” he said.

In fact, that’s how members wrapped up their meeting: With the question of how changes would be implemented. And what the timetable would look like. They have until December to send their final recommendations to the state. Meanwhile, the group plans to hold regional teacher forums across North Carolina. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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