Florida Gov. Rick Scott considering executive action to address Common Core controversy

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauSeptember 19, 2013 

TAMPA -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott is considering an executive order to address growing controversy over the Common Core State Standards.

Scott provided few details Wednesday, but hinted that the order would involve the new tests aligned to the education standards.

Florida was planning to use national exams created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have said Florida should develop its own plan for testing.

“PARCC is too expensive and it takes too long,” Scott said. “So I’m looking at a variety of things, whether it’s an executive order, some administrative and some legislative, to try to fix that.”

Scott also said he would try to address what he called “too much federal involvement” — an overture to tea party groups who consider the new benchmarks and tests an example of federal overreach.

Scott’s remarks came one day after state Board of Education members blasted him for failing to provide clear direction on the standards and exams, which will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Board member Kathleen Shanahan mentioned rumors that Scott might sign an executive order — and said it would disrespect the education board’s statutory responsibilities.

Once a clear Common Core supporter, Scott is in a political bind. Tea party groups, which make up an important part of his base, want Florida to jettison the new standards and tests. But schools across the state are already teaching Common Core, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate are standing behind the benchmarks.

The Common Core standards outline what is expected of students at each grade level but do not include suggestions for books or how teachers should plan their lessons. The benchmarks, created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, have been approved in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Scott was not clear on a timeline for executive action.

“We’ll do it as quickly as we can coalesce what we think is the right thing to do and still get information from people,” he said.

What’s more, he would not say whether he specifically supports the Common Core standards.

“Here’s what I believe in. I believe in measurement,” he said, “We’ve got to come up with an assessment that is fair for our students, our teachers, our parents and our schools.”

One person who is sure of Scott’s position: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Asked Wednesday if he is concerned about Scott’s support potentially wavering, Bush said: “No. He told me he’s committed to Common Core.”

Bush, who has been a national advocate for the standards, confronted criticism of Common Core during an appearance in Washington, blasting it as “purely political.”

“If you’re comfortable with mediocrity, fine,” Bush said. “I’m not.”

He appeared at the National Press Club in support of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who decried a U.S. Department of Justice threat against his state’s school voucher program.

Bush’s comments came as backlash to the Common Core standards has swelled, putting him in an awkward spot as a number of Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio included, have joined the opposition.

Bush did not mask frustration Wednesday, saying higher standards need to be embraced.

“There are a lot of people that believe that somehow this is a national takeover of what is the domain of local and state governments ...” he said. “But in fact these are 45 states that have voluntarily come together to create fewer, higher, deeper standards that, when you benchmark them to the best of the world, they are world class. I’m for that. I’m not for the politics of education. I tire from the politics of education.”

He went on: “The fight about Common Core is political. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have huge swaths of the next generation of Americans that can’t calculate math. They can’t read. Their expectations in their own lives are way too low. And we’re not going to be able to sustain this extraordinarily exceptional country unless we challenge every basic assumption on how we do things.

“There is a lot of heat right now,” he added. “But the simple fact is, no one can defend the lower standards that we have across this country.”

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