ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County’s state senator says he did his homework to help students and parents make sense of theirs.
Sen. Gene McLaurin crossed party lines to support a Common Core compromise bill that would let North Carolina modify the national school standards without having to start from scratch. The N.C. Senate passed the bill by a 33-12 vote on Thursday, and McLaurin was the only Democrat backing the measure.
“I don’t look at these issues as Democrat vs. Republican,” McLaurin said. “We need standards, and I am very much in favor of standards, but I have heard from enough teachers that I think we need to take a look at these standards and make sure the ones that need to be adjusted are adjusted.”
The bill now advances to the state House and could gain traction as Common Core critics continue their push for reform or repeal.
Senate Bill 812 would create an academic standards review commission tasked with drafting its own benchmarks for North Carolina public schools, but in a compromise with Common Core proponents, the bill allows the commission to use the national curriculum standards as a framework and leave some Common Core keystones in place.
Previous bills in the state House and Senate that passed their respective chambers last month would have scrapped Common Core altogether. McLaurin said the middle-of-the-road approach was more palatable to groups opposed to a Common Core repeal.
“I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. “I just thought it was the prudent thing to do.”
Republican Sens. Dan Soucek and Jerry Tillman introduced the compromise bill, and McLaurin quizzed Tillman on the Senate floor before deciding to support it.
“I think I made the right decision,” McLaurin said, “but there will be some, I’m sure, who will say we’ve invested a lot of money (in Common Core) and we don’t need to change it.”
Initially adopted in 45 states, the Common Core State Standards have proven controversial, with South Carolina and Oklahoma choosing to opt out of the nationwide initiative in June. School systems have cited Common Core as the driving force behind new math curriculum that relies on multi-step processes to solve simple arithmetic problems.
McLaurin said puzzled parents in Senate District 25, which includes Richmond, Scotland, Anson, Rowan and Stanly counties, have complained about Common Core and its affects on their children’s understanding of classroom assignments.
“Too many parents have shared with me their frustration with the standards,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit all. Let’s try to fix it and make the right standards for North Carolina.”
Competing House and Senate bills calling for an outright repeal of Common Core alarmed local school administrators. Dr. George Norris, who retired July 1 as Richmond County Schools superintendent, previously said opting out of Common Core would send educators back to square one after investing several years and millions of dollars to implement the standards.
McLaurin said he weighed concerns about banishing Common Core with feedback from parents and business groups in his decision to support a compromise that could leave some of the benchmarks in place. The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce gave the measure its blessing, he added.
“They assured me they were comfortable with the direction we were going,” McLaurin said. “I’m sure they will have a seat at the table.”
The chamber represents the state’s business community and will seek to ensure that public schools equip students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in North Carolina’s evolving work force, McLaurin explained.
S.B. 812 would direct the State Board of Education and newly established standards commission to “maintain the independence of North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study and related student assessments and to ensure these standards are among the highest in the nation,” according to the bill.
McLaurin was the only Democrat to vote for the bill’s passage in a headcount that rigidly followed party lines. Four Democrats and one Republican were absent when the Thursday floor vote was held.
“I almost thought we were playing political football with this,” McLaurin said. “It’s back and forth, back and forth. I just want to make sure it’s right.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.