OUR VIEW: Room for a Common Core compromise?

A Daily Journal editorial

June 6, 2014

Add puzzled parents, a conservative backlash and a few left-leaning skeptics, and the result might be a consensus to abandon the much-maligned Common Core curriculum standards in North Carolina’s public schools.

State lawmakers moved quickly this week to ditch the national benchmarks, with the House and Senate each passing bills to scrap Common Core. The chambers still have to agree on a single version, but it doesn’t take legislative long division to see that the General Assembly has essentially made up its mind.

Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. George Norris said scrapping Common Core is the wrong move. State and local school officials have invested millions of dollars to implement the new standards, not to mention the time teachers and administrators have devoted to develop curriculum tailored to Common Core concepts.

State Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, shares the superintendent’s concerns. He thinks lawmakers are being too hasty, and he voted against the House bill to swap Common Core with as-yet unwritten state curriculum standards.

Common Core rebellion has taken root in many of the 44 states that implemented the benchmarks. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to banish Common Core on May 30. Oklahoma joined the Palmetto State on Thursday when its governor, Mary Fallin, signed a similar bill into law.

A favorite foil of right-wing politicians for years, Common Core lost support among many parents as schools rolled out complex methods for solving simple math problems. The curriculum introduced detailed processes for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division that rely on number substitutions and comparative exercises.

When kids asked for homework help, parents were stumped. The methods known collectively as reform math predate Common Core, but the national curriculum greatly increased their use. Proponents say the new math teaches higher-order thinking skills. Try telling that to the students and parents who can get the right answer with a lot less fuss using tried-and-true arithmetic.

“In the real world, simplification is valued over complication,” electrical engineer Jeff Severt wrote on a Common Core math worksheet shared on Facebook and reposted on dozens of websites. “…The process used is ridiculous and would result in termination if used.”

We tend to agree with Severt. Critical thinking is important, but so is arriving at the correct answer reliably and quickly. Students who have to perform mental gymnastics in order to make change for a dollar will be ill-prepared for the work force. For a nation already lagging behind much of the developed world in science, technology, engineering and math, that outcome is wholly unacceptable.

Public policy isn’t always as clear-cut as addition and subtraction, however. Sometimes, there can be more than one correct answer. Parts of Common Core are absurd and convoluted, but some ideas might be worth saving.

North Carolina’s supposed solution to the Common Core problem gives us pause. Both the House and Senate bills would create a commission to develop a statewide curriculum. We’re against the growth of government and don’t see the need for more bureaucrats and more blue-ribbon panels at a time when lawmakers are struggling to fund modest raises for our underpaid teachers.

If there’s extra money to be found, it belongs in our classrooms, not in administrative offices in Raleigh.

Our state needs a loose framework for lesson plans that gives teachers and administrators more local control. Teachers know best which methods are right for their students. Let’s empower them to educate creatively.

Perhaps Common Core’s critics and backers could hammer out a compromise that salvages the best parts of the national standards and dispenses with lessons long on theory and short on real-world applications.

The right answer here may be the median between two extremes.