Putting Education Reform To The Test

Common Core Opponents Having Little Success In Florida — So Far

Tim Curtis says the federal government doesn’t have a record of getting things done.

It’s why the Tampa resident is concerned the federal Department of Education offered grants to states adopting new math and English standards known as Common Core.

Earlier this month, 150 members of the Tampa 9/12 Project – a group which shares some of the goals of the Tea Party — met to hear from a critic of Common Core standards. Curtis said people left the meeting thinking Florida should take a second look at the standards.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Tampa resident Tim Curtis says he is concerned about the federal government is encouraging states to adopt Common Core State Standards. Curtis would like the state a timeout to study the standards further.

“First and foremost it’s not a federal issue,” Curtis said. “Tell me something that we’ve done at the federal level, especially here of late, where it’s been such a booming success.”

The standards have been fully adopted by Florida, 44 other states and the District of Columbia. Common Core lays out what students are expected to know in math and English language arts by the end of each grade.

The standards streamline the number of topics schools teach children in each subject. Common Core also requires teachers ask students what they know and to prove how they know it.

Legislatures and schools across the country are seeing opposition to the Common Core as more states approach the deadline to begin using the standards and accompanying tests.

Conservatives such as media personalities Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin have encouraged their audiences to oppose Common Core. Education historian Diane Ravitch has rallied opposition from many on the opposite side of the political spectrum

Federal involvement is just one reason people are opposing Common Core.

There’s the cost – still unknown. And the testing required for Common Core.

Others worry private companies could access student data and personal information standardized under Common Core.

Others are suspicious of the motivation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other wealthy non-profits which are supporting Common Core.

Scholars argue the standards aren’t any better than those Florida and some other states are using now.

Lawmakers in seven states have introduced bills to repeal Common Core standards or to halt their rollout. Indiana lawmakers approved a “pause” bill Friday.

But not Florida. Activists said last week they have yet to find a lawmaker willing to oppose Common Core.

So why has the state which filed the first lawsuit against the “Obamacare” health insurance law not challenging what some critics have dubbed “Obamacore?”

First, the standards have broad support among the state’s political, education and business leaders.  University of South Florida education professor Stephen Thornton said state residents are also conditioned to accept big changes in education after more than a decade piloting new policies.

Many started under former Gov. Jeb Bush – who remains the godfather of Florida education.

Bush supports the Common Core. Like other supporters, he says the standards resemble those used by the world highest-performing students in Finland, Japan and Singapore.

“I suspect that there has been a tradition in Florida in the last generation or so of top-down change,” Thornton said. “And I wonder whether the lack of very visible opposition to Common Core that is so apparent in other parts of the country may partly be because Florida has gotten used to top-down change.”

That includes the use of tests to judge schools, evaluating teachers based on student performance and adding math and science graduation requirements.

Last year voters in Indiana revolted against those some of those policies and Common Core. They fired the state school superintendent.

That man, Tony Bennett, is now the Florida education commissioner.

Bennett says Common Core supporters have a key ally in Florida.

“In Florida there is a much greater level of, not only acceptance, but of embrace of the Common Core – especially by the business community,” Bennett said. “Truthfully we didn’t have that level of commitment in Indiana.”

Businesses like ExxonMobil believe the standards will mean better-prepared workers. They paid for commercials during the recent Masters golf tournament supporting Common Core.

Common Core also has the support of Bush, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders. Even the state teacher’s union approves because teachers helped create the standards.

Common Core critics have a mountain to climb.

Tim Curtis is going to try.

“Because at this point, nobody is going to be able just simply stomp on the brake. Right?” Curtis said. “But we can apply some pressure to the brake and slow it down so that more people will have an idea of what is that’s going on.”

Bennett worries more could join the backlash when Common Core takes effect.

That’s because Bush and others predict just one in three students will pass the tougher tests. Currently, more than half of Florida students score at grade level on state tests.


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