Staying the course with Florida Standards

January 26, 2014 

Schools Summit

Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner, talks at the Education Accountability Summit, Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 at the St. Petersburg College Collaborative Labs, Clearwater.

SCOTT KEELER — AP

As the Sunshine States moves toward tweaking the Common Core State Standards and transforming the newer, more rigorous education expectations into tougher Florida Standards, the state Board of Education will be the next battle ground come the panel's February meeting.

Common Core critics continue to falsely pound on the standards as some sort of federal government plot to control state's rights to set their own course.

But this bipartisan blueprint for improving the nation's global standing in education was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers -- in other words, states, not the federal government.

Forty-five states have adopted the new learning benchmarks, a sign of the widespread belief that school systems need to challenge students to develop deeper critical thinking skills in the language arts, math and other disciplines. This is all to graduate students capable of competing stronger in the global marketplace and allow parents to compare schools across the country on similar metrics.

With state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart proposing almost a hundred revisions to Common Core, Florida will have even more robust standards. Calculus standards and cursive writing instruction were part of those additions. The Board of Education should be objective and nonpartisan during February's hearing on Stewart's proposals.

Gov. Rick Scott should come out forcefully in support of improving education from kindergarten through 12th grade via the new standards and not play politics as his re-election campaign shifts into high gear. His support of the myths provides Common Core detractors with ammunition to continue the fight.

Along with other systems across the state, the Manatee County school district has been rolling out the standards for several years. Manatee County intends to fully implement the new standards for grade 3-12 in the 2014-2015 school year.

Another one of the myths surrounding this highly politicized issue is that this is a federal curriculum. Not so. Common Core does not dictate lesson plans; the standards only outline what students should learn.

Diana Greene, Manatee's deputy superintendent of instruction, told Herald education reporter Erica Earl that there are no textbook series connected to Common Core. Lessons can be individualized for districts and even classrooms as each school system selects materials. Like Florida, other states are adapting Common Core to their own education goals.

The much reviled Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will be eliminated in favor of a new standardized exam yet to be developed. The state received five vendor bids to compose a test, which would replace FCAT in 2015, and Stewart plans to pick one of those in March. Florida must also set passing scores and a new school grading system.

Can the state reasonably expect that this complete makeover will succeed without field testing the new assessment to gain insight into potential challenges? Stewart believes that state will be fully prepared, and we hope her confidence is well founded. Florida cannot afford a wobbly shift into these higher standards, and should difficulties appear to be forthcoming, the Legislature should delay implementation of the new test.

The uncertainty surrounding the new test is creating angst among educators, though they're committed to preparing students for multistep questions and composing explanations for their reasoning after teaching to the new standards for the past three years.

Instead of championing higher educational standards as he should, Gov. Scott is playing to his political base in this election year by echoing the falsehoods about Common Core. That's a disappointing lack of leadership.

But Education Commissioner Stewart is standing up against the opponents of change. The Legislature should, too.

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