Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida Republican Party Leaders Urge Support For New Education Standards

American Conservative Union

Ron Sachs / DPA/Landov

American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas is one of five former Republican Party of Florida chairmen urging support for Common Core State Standards.

Five former Republican Party of Florida leaders have sent out an email asking state GOP members to support new education standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states.

The letter is signed by state Sen. John Thrasher and four other former state party chairmen. When Florida has raised its standards in the past, Thrasher wrote in the email, it has resulted in better scores on international tests and gains from black and Hispanic students.”

The new standards, known as Common Core, will continue that progress, Thrasher wrote in the email.

“Every leading indicator – test scores, graduation rates, national rankings, participation and achievement in Advanced Placement – continues to rise thanks to higher standards,” the email states. “But, we have to continue the fight.  Common Core does that.”

Common Core has come under fire by those on both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. Their concerns include losing local control over education, higher costs and increasing time spent on testing.

Both supporters and opponents are trying to raise awareness about the standards, scheduled for use in every Florida classroom by the start of the 2014 school year.

One notable name signing the letter? Al Cardenas.

Cardenas is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Cardenas could help bolster support for Common Core among its most conservative critics.

Read the full letter below:

From: John Thrasher [mailto:john@electthrasher.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:59 AM
To: John Thrasher
Cc: John Thrasher
Subject: Common Core State Standards

Dear Florida Republican Leaders:
Like many of you, we have been following the conversation regarding a new education reform initiative soon to arrive in Florida schools – the Common Core State Standards.

Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation about the movement to raise academic standards, especially among our fellow conservatives. As former chairs of the Republican Party of Florida, we wish to share our view on this effort and what it will mean for Florida’s students and our state’s future.

We know that the most critical component for creating an even-playing field where every single individual has the opportunity to achieve greatness is education. A good system of education holds the power to keep America economically competitive and secure, while also lessening future generations’ reliance on government and entitlement programs.

Florida once ran one of the worst public education systems in the nation. Now, as a result of conservative education reform based on stronger accountability and more choice, we have become a national leader in boosting student achievement. Even so, our academic standards currently do not set the bar high enough for children to be globally competitive. This trend is mirrored in states across the country. On international assessments in Math and Science, American students are embedded firmly in the middle of the pack. This hardly bodes well for America continuing as the dominant world power in the 21st Century.

The nation’s Governors recognized this problem almost 15 years ago and began a process that eventually led to states collaborating on the development of Common Core State Standards. President Obama has falsely and dishonestly tried to take credit for this initiative, but this was a state issue, and state leaders developed the solution needed. Lately, there have been a number of myths about this initiative. We would like to address these directly.

Common Core is not a federal dictate or national mandate. States are free to adopt the standards or to not adopt them. And, if they have already adopted them, they are free to drop out at any point.

Some have alleged that the new standards change laws around student data and privacy. They don’t. Regardless of adopting the Common Core, states remain in control of their students’ private information, just as they are now. The federal government does not have access to individual student-level data – just aggregate information by school on how students are performing. States must remain vigilant in working with local school districts to continue protecting student information.

The Common Core State Standards only set academic expectations in English and Math. They do not dictate curriculum – the textbooks used, the reading assignments handed down, the lesson plans employed by teachers, and the thousand other methods or materials used to help students learn. The standards are merely benchmarks for what a student should know by the end of the year at each grade level, from K-12. Ultimately, local school districts and teachers remain in control of their curriculum and in charge of their classrooms.

Some have expressed concern about Common Core’s impact on parental choice. Common Core State Standards in no way impact the right of parents to choose the best educational opportunity for their child. We already have academic standards; we are just raising the bar. Home school parents and parents with children in schools that do not receive state funding remain completely unaffected. In non-traditional public schools that receive either voucher money or other state-funding, the current dynamic remains unchanged.

Any exercise of this magnitude will have its supporters and detractors, its legitimate criticisms and its inevitable conspiracy theories. The simple questions for Florida are these: Will these new standards ensure we provide our kids with a better education and the taxpayers with a better return on their investment? Will the new assessments be better than the existing assessments? Will students graduate high school more prepared for college and the workforce?

We believe the answer to these questions is “yes.” And, we are not alone. Common Core supporters include a wide swath of conservative leaders, including Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Susana Martinez, Rick Snyder and our own Governor Rick Scott. And, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who led the education reform efforts in Florida for eight years and initiated the turnaround of Florida schools, has been a strong proponent of higher standards.

We’ve seen what high standards mean to students in Florida. In 1998, nearly half of Florida’s fourth graders were functionally illiterate. Today, Florida’s fourth graders and eighth graders are above the national average in Reading and fourth graders are above the national average in Math with eighth graders closing in on that benchmark. Best of all, Florida’s Hispanic and African-American students are making the greatest gains, narrowing the achievement gap for the first time in our lifetime. Every leading indicator – test scores, graduation rates, national rankings, participation and achievement in Advanced Placement – continues to rise thanks to higher standards.  But, we have to continue the fight.  Common Core does that.

Finally, there are good conservatives on both sides of this issue. Questioning the integrity of anyone involved on either side of this debate does not do our Party or this issue any favors. We implore our fellow Republicans to judge the Common Core State Standards by what they are: academic standards, not curriculum and not a national mandate. You can learn more about the Common Core State Standards at www.highercorestandards.org. Read them. Listen to what teachers say about them. If you disagree, do so from an informed perspective.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this initiative and thank you for continuing to provide the strong leadership needed to keep our Party strong and united in the Sunshine State.


John Thrasher, Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman

Carole Jean Jordan, Former Republican Party of Florida Chairwoman

Al Cardenas, Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman

Tom Slade, Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman

Van Poole, Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman


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