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Controversy rages over Common Core Commission recommendations

The Academic Standards Review Commission may have wrapped up its mission in December, but the fallout from its recommendations continued to land during the holiday break. Here is a copy of its final report.

A quick recap

After 15 months of meetings, the Commission was expected to recommend changes to the standards used in North Carolina. Instead, it issued a series of suggestions for both English Language Arts (ELA) and math, after scuttling its plans for mathematics. The preliminary recommendations for math included adopting the Minnesota standards for grades K-8, and returning to the old math standards in high school (Algebra I-Geometry-Algebra II). When the changes were voted down, the ELA recommendations were revised to include math.

The preliminary recommendations were available for months before the final vote in December. Commission members met a number of times before then, but until the last day it seemed fairly certain that the preliminary recommendations would become the final recommendations. It was a surprise to many at the final meeting when the Commission’s preliminary math recommendations were voted down.

More context

The Academic Standards Review Commission was created by the General Assembly. The legislation begins with this:

“AN ACT TO EXERCISE NORTH CAROLINA’S CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY OVER ALL ACADEMIC STANDARDS; TO REPLACE COMMON CORE; AND TO ENSURE THAT STANDARDS ARE ROBUST AND APPROPRIATE AND ENABLE STUDENTS TO SUCCEED ACADEMICALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY.”

The legislation goes on to lay out the goals of the Academic Standards Review Commission, saying:

“The Commission shall:

(1)  Conduct a comprehensive review of all English Language Arts and Mathematics standards that were adopted by the State Board of Education under G.S. 115C-12(9c) and propose modifications to ensure that those standards meet all of the following criteria:

a. Increase students’ level of academic achievement.

b. Meet and reflect North Carolina’s priorities.

c. Are age-level and developmentally appropriate.

d. Are understandable to parents and teachers.

e. Are among the highest standards in the nation.

(2)  As soon as practicable upon convening, and at any time prior to termination, recommend changes and modifications to these academic standards to the State Board of Education.

(3)  Recommend to the State Board of Education assessments aligned to proposed changes and modifications that would also reduce the number of high-stakes assessments administered to public schools.

(4)  Consider the impact on educators, including the need for professional development, when making any of the recommendations required in this section.”

Dissent from the Commission table

The first volley of criticism following the December vote came from Commission co-chair Tammy Covil who put out a press release condemning the decisions of the Commission.

Her criticism is extensive and can be read in its entirety at the link above. Of particular note are her remarks on the attitude of the Commission toward math working group chair Ted Scheick. Scheick and his group developed more changes to the math standards which were ultimately voted down. His group’s recommendations came under a lot of fire during the final meeting.

“Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this entire exercise was exhibited in the unwarranted and vicious attack on Dr. Scheick and his math group, most of whom possess more individual teaching experience than those who wrote the Common Core math standards combined. The fact that certain commission members waited until the final meeting to reveal their true colors is evidence of their intent to undermine this commission’s work from the beginning,” Covil said in her press release.

Commission member and former co-chair Jeannie Metcalf got up and left the meeting at one point. Common Core critic Andrea Dillon reached out to Metcalf after the final meeting and wrote about it at her blog Ladyliberty1885.com. She reports that Metcalf said she left because of the Commission’s behavior toward Scheick.

“I was embarrassed and ashamed for the way Dr. Scheick was being treated. That group had 6 months to ‘vet’ his recommendations,” Metcalf was reported as saying in Dillon’s blog.

Senator weighs in

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) was one of the primary sponsors of the legislation that created the Commission. He spoke at the beginning of the final meeting, saying he liked the preliminary recommendations. He also said that he hoped the Commission’s work wouldn’t become too watered down in an attempt to quiet Common Core supporters.

In a recent newsletter, Tillman reprinted Covil’s press release and added his own comments at the end:

“I want to thank Tammy and the other two members for their diligence in attempting to meet the intent of the legislature (SB 812). Your effort has been noted – and I believe will yet prevail. The SBE has to make its decision. The public will not forget the total disregard the commission displayed and the utter waste of valuable time and money. I await SBE action. I, for one, will not sit quietly and watch Common Core prevail. After 4 years of Common Core, math test scores have dropped significantly. We can do better….”

Commission “Minority Report”

Over at Dillon’s blog, she posted a PDF of a “minority report” created by the math working group, which includes extensive analysis of the Common Core Standards in North Carolina, along with the group’s original recommendations:

“The MWG recommends that NC adopt or revise the Minnesota K-8 math standards to meet the needs of NC while insuring that the NMAP benchmarks are incorporated.”

and

“The MWG recommends that NC return to the old sequence of study Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II in high school.”

The minority report contains an explanation of why they thought these changes were necessary.

Media reporting

Lynn Bonner at the News & Observer wrote an article on the Commission over the holidays.

In an analysis of emails between math working group members, Bonner discovered that the importance of memorization in mathematics was discussed extensively. She quotes from Scheick’s emails in which he supports memorization and criticizes the Common Core method of teaching children multiple models of problem solving. Her article includes the following:

“The current fad of criticizing ‘rote’ or ‘memorize’ should be opposed in some way,” Scheick wrote in an Oct. 26 email. “In my view, some of these visual models are good for showing how standard algorithms work, but to learn many of them and to learn them in a complex way are detrimental. Some memorizing is necessary in life.”

Bonner also reported on a letter from Common Core supporters — the N.C. Council of Teachers of Mathematics in particular — which criticized the math working group’s findings on Common Core. Bonner’s article included the following quote:

“The group’s proceedings repeatedly exhibited a lack of transparency, an unwillingness to consider multiple points of view, and a refusal to allow anyone who did not share their opposition to the Common Core to participate,” the supporters wrote.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.