Blog: The Educated Reporter

The (Southern) Politics of The Common Core

Former Gov. Bev Perdue, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Fla. State Sen. John Legg at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill on Jan. 12, 2015. (EWA)

Against the backdrop of state and national political wrangling over the Common Core, former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue — an early champion of the standards – joined one of the state’s leading critics of the initiative, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, at an EWA seminar to discuss the past and future of the new academic benchmarks. (Watch a video of the session here.)

“Every kid in the country deserves a world-class education,” said Perdue, a Democrat who was governor when North Carolina adopted the standards in June 2010. “That is the preeminent, overriding premise of Common Core.”

But Forest, a Republican who has been instrumental in rallying critics, argued that Common Core advocates have been overly dismissive of concerns raised by parents and educators.

“Parents and teachers, when they have questions about issues related to the Common Core, how do you not marginalize them and push them over to the side and say, ‘Well these are myths and misconceptions about Common Core,’” he said. “You can’t just dismiss questions of parents.”

In response to pressure from Forest and others, the Republican-led legislature in North Carolina enacted a measure creating a commission to review the standards. The commission has until the end of the year to file its report. The State Board of Education would be responsible for making any changes.

Perdue said the state did the right thing in adopting the standards, though she does not object to the review commission.

“I just think you have to be sure, if you’re going to do these reviews, that you have somebody who knows what they’re doing,” she said. Perdue added that her message to states that decide to repeal the standards is: “What it’s replaced with, make sure it’s higher.”

Asked whether he wants the standards to see a major overhaul or just minor changes, Forest said he would leave that up to the commission.

“I would leave that to the professional that are working on it right now. But at the very least, we definitely need to have transparency in the process,” he told the EWA audience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill last month. “The people who are against this now, … they ask, why didn’t we vet these standards?”

Forty-five states initially adopted the Common Core. Three states have since withdrawn.

At the EWA seminar, Forest and Perdue were joined by Florida state Sen. John Legg, a Republican who chairs the state Senate PreK-12 Committee.Responding to criticism, last year Florida changed its standards, adding cursive and calculus and rewriting some details for clarity. The state also changed the name to the Florida Standards.

Even after those adjustments, Florida weathered complaints about the guts of Common Core remaining intact.

Legg said about 13,000 people responded to the request for comment on each of the standards in the Common Core, and a relative handful objected to specific items.

He has traveled throughout Florida, attending town hall meetings and Tea Party forums to talk about the standards.

“Common Core” means different things to different people,” he said. When people use that term, they could  be referring to the actual standards, or to the associated curriculum, assessments, professional development, or technology.

In answering questions about curriculum, it was important to let people know that those decisions were made locally by districts and not mandated by the adoption of the Common Core, Legg said. 

The state is now digging into assessments, he said: “Where do we assess? Where do we test? How do we use those? How can we make sure we meet certain benchmarks and still allow for innovation to take place?”

The panel also touched on parents’ frustration with Common Core. 

Forest, a Republican, said parents and teachers were left with many unanswered questions about a crucial education decision. 

Parents have called his office saying they can’t help their children with third-grade math. “How did this happen?”  Forest asked. 

Forest said he sees more national movement away from Common Core in 2015.

“I think North Carolina should have the highest standards in the world,” he said. “We can learn from other states without taking a one-size-fits-all approach to standards.”

Perdue said she has a daughter-in-law “who hates Common Core as a parent” because she can’t help with math. But Perdue said she recently visited a second-grade classroom to see if she was on the right track supporting the standards.

After watching the students work on a problem, Perdue said she left thinking “these kids think differently than I did. They’ve got analytical, problem-solving skills at 6 or 7. That’s what the world is going to require. That’s what these little kids who are going to start work in a world that none of us can fathom have to have.”

For more on the Southern context of the Common Core, watch a replay of a conversation with Ferrel Guillory, a veteran journalist and director of the Program on Public Life at UNC’s School of Journalism.