June 5, 2014

Senate votes out Common Core

Gov. Pat McCrory said he doesn’t like it, but the legislature moved closer Thursday to replacing Common Core learning standards in math and language arts.

Gov. Pat McCrory said he doesn’t like it, but the legislature moved closer Thursday to replacing Common Core learning standards in math and language arts.

The Senate voted 33-15 to replace the national standards and write new ones. The House voted on its own bill Wednesday repealing Common Core. The two versions must be reconciled.

The Common Core standards, which all state public schools have used for two years, have been criticized as developmentally inappropriate in early grades. Critics also say that education is a job best left to the states and adopting national standards is a constitutional violation.

Parents, for the most part, did not have a big role in any of the Common Core, said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican. But parents have been heavily involved in what the legislature is doing now.

McCrory, the broad business community, including the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, and an assortment of education groups want to keep Common Core.

McCrory on Thursday said the decision to repeal Common Core was “not a smart move.”

“There are things we need to correct and recognize,” he said, citing concerns with implementation and testing in remarks at a Raleigh meeting of the N.C. Business Committee for Education, a group that supports the standards. “But again, you don’t just throw out the whole thing if you have some minor issues you need to fix.”

In an interview after the speech, the governor wouldn’t go as far as to say he would veto the legislation but said his administration is working with senators and House members. “We’re active in that process, so hopefully I don’t have the decision to make,” he said.

Bill requires unemployed to apply for more jobs

A bill that calls for North Carolina workers receiving unemployment benefits to step up their job-seeking efforts received a preliminary go-ahead from the state House Thursday.

It would require jobless workers to contact five potential employers each week – rather than the current two – to remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

The bill, which must be voted on again before it can move to the Senate, passed 77-39.

The bill also would halt the Division of Employment Security’s decadelong practice of making hearing notices of contested unemployment cases available to employment law attorneys who pay a monthly fee.

The U.S. Labor Department says the policy violates federal regulations and therefore puts the agency’s federal funding in jeopardy. But a court order issued in March, an outgrowth of a lawsuit against Employment Security, requires the state to continue to make those documents available.

The Labor Department has urged the state to pass the bill.

Staff writer David Ranii

Changes to Read to Achieve go to McCrory

A measure that loosens some of the requirements on third-graders in the state’s Read to Achieve program passed the House on Thursday but not before Democrats tried to push for further concessions.

The House voted 70-43 to concur with the version that has already passed the Senate. The bill now goes to McCrory.

Read to Achieve was introduced in 2012 as part of the Excellent Public Schools Act. It required students who didn’t pass the third grade end-of-grade reading test to repeat the grade or attend a six-week summer camp. But parents and educators complained that the program led to too much testing as teachers tried to assess students, which took time away from other lessons.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who championed the initial bill, said he realized the program needed modifications after speaking with educators.

“We received feedback from people at the front of these systems that things needed to be tweaked,” Berger said. “They were legitimate concerns.”

The new bill reduces the amount of time a child must attend camp to 72 hours. Those whose parents don’t choose camp will have to repeat third grade.

The new bill would also make it possible for students to demonstrate their reading abilities in other ways, should they fail the test.

For some parents, the most welcome change allows the State Board of Education to approve alternative testing for children with disabilities.

Roberto Morales, a Wake County parent of a third grader with dyslexia, was among those parents upset by the Read to Achieve testing.

“My kid’s spirit is damaged,” Morales said. “She’s going to fail the EOG. All the work she does outside of the classroom is going to count for nothing.”

Pamela Grundy, co-chair of a grass-roots coalition of parents called Mecklenburg ACTS, said the changes aren’t aggressive enough, and that there’s not enough support for students who struggle with reading. Grundy and Mecklenburg ACTS urged the House not to concur with the bill but to push for more change.

“We want the mandatory retention removed,” Grundy said. “Retention does not work. There’s a bunch of kids out there who are going to get retained, and it’s not going to help them.”

She also noted Read to Achieve places too much emphasis on standardized test scores.

Even with the proposed changes to Read to Achieve, Grundy said, third grade will continue to be a “land of test prep.”

Staff writer Katy Canada

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