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Common Core wrong focus; fix testing, funding

From Kristen Stephens, associate professor in Duke University’s Program in Education:

Replacing the Common Core curriculum in North Carolina is ill-advised. Considerable time, effort and resources have been devoted over the last several years to align curriculum and assessments with these new standards. To think North Carolina will be in a position to start from scratch, yet again, is not only frustrating, but considerably wasteful of already limited resources.

If N.C. lawmakers replace the Common Core, teachers will feel that the slew of professional development sessions they have attended and the countless hours spent developing and revising lesson plans to align with the Common Core were fruitless. Combine this frustration with teacher pay in North Carolina, and there will certainly be a mass exodus of teachers from our state.

Teachers in North Carolina are ready for stability. The majority of teachers have embraced the Common Core and have worked tirelessly to enhance their understanding of these standards and align their instruction with them.

Concerns over the prescription of specific texts in Language Arts or how certain math processes are to be taught are unfounded. The Common Core is a framework that articulates the content and skills that students should know, understand and be able to do across grade levels.

The Common Core is not a curriculum. The standards do not dictate how teachers should teach or what materials they must use. In fact, the standards afford teachers a great deal of flexibility and leave decisions to teachers and schools about how to best help students reach these standards. The lesson plans and any materials are left to states, school systems and teachers.

Our legislature can do many things to support the implementation of a rigorous and relevant curriculum, but eliminating Common Core standards is not one of them. The legislature can allocate additional resources to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and school systems throughout the state to support the continued development of curriculum that aligns with these standards.

Legislators can also provide funding to support intensive training for teachers around skills emphasized in the standards: Communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking. Much work has already been done, and having uniform standards across states allows for the collaboration and sharing of curriculum, instructional approaches and resources deemed effective in helping students meet standards.

The implementation of the Common Core coincided with an intense focus around high-stakes testing to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness. Legislators and other stakeholders must decouple the Common Core from these other heated debates. Instead of focusing on replacing Common Core standards, we should focus on reforming our current assessment system.

Students statewide are engaged in end-of-grade and end-of-course testing. They must engage intensely for more than three straight hours across several days. This practice is not only developmentally inappropriate for most students, it is inhumane.

It is time for all legislators to realize the full implications of their policies on schools, teachers and students. Replacing the Common Core is simply the wrong place to focus our efforts.

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