Two new permanent commissions should help North Carolina leaders decide whether to modify or replace controversial Common Core public school standards. That’s the recommendation the John Locke Foundation‘s top education expert puts forward in a new Spotlight report.
“These new commissions focusing on both English language arts and math would help North Carolina move beyond the current furor over Common Core,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Research and Education Studies. “They would be charged with raising the quality and rigor of standards, curricula, and assessments.”
Stoops will highlight key elements from his report when he testifies during the 10 a.m. meeting of the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Common Core State Standards.
Each commission should incorporate a large, diverse group of stakeholders, Stoops said. “Commission members would include teachers, administrators, curriculum and content area experts, policy professionals, practitioners, parents, community leaders, school board members, state education officials, and state legislators,” he said. “Given the project’s scope, each commission would have at least 14 members appointed by legislative leaders, Gov. Pat McCrory, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.”
Both groups would pursue four goals, Stoops said. “First, determine whether North Carolina should modify or replace Common Core,” he said. “Second, look beyond standards to specify content that aligns with the new or modified standards. Third, recommend a valid, reliable, and cost-effective testing program that aligns with the standards and content. Fourth, provide an ongoing review of the standards, curriculum, and tests throughout their implementation.”
Stoops rejects other options for addressing concerns about Common Core. “It is not feasible to ignore Common Core standards, since they establish expectations for all North Carolina students,” he said. “Nor does it seem wise to attempt to add 15 percent to the standards, as permitted by national groups backing Common Core. The costs of modifying such a small share of the standards might outweigh any benefits.”
Scrapping Common Core immediately and starting from scratch would create another set of problems, Stoops said.
“Unfortunately, the process of finding an alternative would likely require North Carolina’s public schools to go without standards, and therefore accountability, for multiple school years,” he said. “Since standards developed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction were defective and inferior even to today’s flawed Common Core standards, it would be worse to resuscitate North Carolina’s former state standards than to keep Common Core in its current form.”
Once the commissions review standards, they would turn their attention to developing the North Carolina Foundations of Achievement, or NCFA, Stoops said. “This is the content-rich curriculum that would align with the new or modified standards and provide the foundation for classroom instruction and testing.”
A high-quality NCFA is just as important to North Carolina public schools as high-quality standards, Stoops said. “If crafted carefully, it will ensure that other parts of the instructional process — curriculum, instruction, and assessment — will not be undermined by whatever standards are used as a starting point.”
Throughout the report, Stoops references other states’ track records in addressing concerns about Common Core and development of a state curriculum. State education officials in Massachusetts earn special attention.
“Their efforts to align content-rich curricula to standards elevated student performance in Massachusetts to unprecedented levels,” he said. “North Carolina should replicate, as much as possible, this approach.”
The new commissions would review and recommend a testing program that complements new standards and curriculum plans, Stoops said. “Given that the commissions are likely to make substantial changes to state English and math standards, it makes little sense to adopt Common Core or existing state tests aligned with previous standards,” he said. “Commission members should use this opportunity to get DPI out of the testing business once and for all.”
North Carolina should preserve one key advantage of Common Core, which produced state-by-state comparisons of student performance, Stoops said. “To maintain this advantage, the commissions should adopt independent, field-tested, and credible national tests of student performance in English and math,” he said. “A number of existing tests are available to meet that goal.”
The new commissions would have plenty of additional work after their initial reviews of English and math, Stoops said. “The legislature should mandate yearly reviews of the standards, curriculum, and tests in other subjects,” he said. “The reviews should incorporate feedback from teachers and administrators, and the commission should have the authority to make minor adjustments to reformulated standards and curricula without seeking approval from the N.C. State Board of Education.”
North Carolina schools need high-quality standards, curricula, and testing, Stoops said. “Modifying or abandoning Common Core should not be synonymous with scrapping standards or testing in favor of a system that does little to ensure that public schools are raising student achievement or spending taxpayers’ money productively,” he said. “The new commissions would help lead to higher standards and greater accountability.”