Florida's governor fails the Common Core test

September 25, 2013 


U.S. map shows the states that have adopted the Common Core Standards designed to provide a clear understanding for what students should be able to know and do in English and math. MCT 2013 With EDUC STANDARDS, McClatchy Washington Bureau by Renee Schoof


Opponents of the Common Core State Standards are falsely portraying this state-created education strategy as an overreach of the federal government. Gov. Rick Scott has fallen prey to that particular attack to scuttle the elevated benchmarks for student achievement, scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2014-2015 school year and already being taught in Florida schools.

The governor issued an executive order this week, recommending the State Board of Education abandon Florida's participation in one element of Common Core: the standardized test under development by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

In his letter to the board, Scott specifically cited his grounds for the recommendation: "federal control of policy decisions of state and local governments."

That's false.

The Florida Department of Education website states the federal government has no involvement in either developing Common Core standards or the new test. The governor is simply playing politics with education to appease core supporters essential to his 2014 re-election campaign.

Widely misunderstood and controversial, Common Core is designed to better equip American students to compete in the international marketplace. Adopted by 45 states, the more rigorous approach to boosting education outlines achievement expectations at each grade level in core subjects.

The focus is digging deeper into concepts so students come away with a stronger analytical skills and a mastery of the topic -- and be better prepared for college or a career.

Yet opponents portray this goal as something sinister. The standards do not suggest how teachers conduct their lessons or list books, another attack angle. That's left to local control -- a critical position that Common Core foes ignore.

Developed over four years by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers -- not the federal government -- Common Core last week received the endorsement of the Florida Board of Education. That came at a meeting in which the governor's fourth education commissioner in three years was confirmed.

In the past, Scott has expressed support for Common Core's goals, but now is demanding a public review and rewrite of the standards, a retreat on the higher standards that Florida began implementing in 2010.

The coming Common Core tests -- scheduled to replace the much-reviled FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, next school year -- might well deserve sharp scrutiny as too expensive and too time-consuming.

But Florida's exit from writing the test with a multi-state consortium would end the state's influence over its finished product, a misguided policy at best.

Plus, a standardized test used across most of the country would provide valuable comparisons for parents seeking the best education and businesses looking for high achievers. Is Florida afraid of that?

The state's school accountability system under FCAT is deeply flawed, as exposed by grade padding the past two years to protect failing schools from dropping more than one grade.

Florida is free to develop its own test, as legislative leaders have stated, but there's little time for that. Scott's executive order did allow the Board of Education the option to adopt the final Common Core test composed by other states -- and that option should remain on the table.

But this is more about politics than education. Up for re-election next year, Scott is tip-toeing through a political minefield by pandering to Common Core opponents.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a staunch proponent of education reform, is also a strong supporter of Common Core. He stated last week that "I tire from the politics of education" and "the fight about Common Core is political."

He also said: "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. But the simple fact is, no one can defend the lower standards that we have across the country."

Florida's public education system should not be a political football game prone to an election campaign fumble.

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