Putting Education Reform To The Test

A Q & A With House Speaker Will Weatherford

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, takes questions from the Suncoast Tiger Bay civic club.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, takes questions from the Suncoast Tiger Bay civic club.

We caught up with House Speaker Will Weatherford at yesterday’s meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay civic club.

Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, took questions about Obamacare, Stand Your Ground and requiring power customers to pay the cost of new nuclear plants up front.

We asked him about the expected legislative debate over Common Core State Standards and why he was opposing PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two Common Core-tied tests under development by multi-state coalitions.

Weatherford said he expects Common Core to be a big topic as lawmakers return to Tallahassee for committee meetings next week. Weatherford said he supports high academic standards, but admitted critics raised some legitimate concerns about Common Core.

Q: We’ve got the first bill introduced that would put a hold to [Common Core]…What kind of debate do you expect next year and what’s the plan up until next year to educate people about it and get the discussion going?

A: I think having a debate about standards is always a good thing to have.

With regards to the repealing of Common Core, it’s a lot more complicated than I think people think. There’s massive fiscal impacts associated with that.

But there are some very healthy and legitimate concerns that people have, with regard to the database of our students’ information, with regard to not having a national curriculum. I don’t want a national curriculum. I know the governor doesn’t either.

So I think we’ve got to figure out a way to balance out the concerns of the folks that are out there with Common Core and the direction it would take the state of Florida, but also making sure that we maintain high standards for the state. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard. And that balance is something we’re going to be focusing on this fall as we gear up for next session.

Q: When the letter about PARCC first came out, some people quickly said ‘No, no, we’re not backing away from Common Core, this is just about the test.’ Do you still feel that way that you’re not backing away from Common Core, or is another set of college and career standards a possibility?

 A: Well I think the idea of having high standards like Common Core is something we have to have.

What we’re going to look at are the concerns that people have brought to us – with the governor. They had a three-day summit last week right here in St. Petersburg, I believe. I think they got a lot of good feedback from people.

This is the off-season. We’re not in session until March. So I think making a quick decision now is not the right thing to do. It should be deliberate and thoughtful, hear from all sides. Make sure we get all the facts and then make a decision.

Q: Any sense of how much time the legislature might spend on this issue?

A: A lot.

Q: You and the Senate President came out against PARCC. You said you had some questions about the test; that Florida should withdraw from the coalition. The questions you guys raised, we kind of know some of the answers to them.  And we know more about PARCC than we do some of the alternatives. So why the problem with PARCC when we know more about it than some of the other possibilities?

A: I think the challenge with PARCC was that it’s a 10-hour test, first of all. It’s going to take almost 20 days for our school districts to administer it. It requires a 2-to-1 ratio for technology to our students. It’s very expensive. And frankly I don’t think it was going to be ready for prime time by the time we got there.

So we sent a letter to former Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett saying ‘Can you come up with a plan B? We have strong concerns about PARCC.’ Well since then we have a new commissioner of education and it’s our understanding in conversations with her that she’s looking at our letter and is also looking at what the other options could be.

We haven’t heard back yet, but we’re awaiting that response.

Q: So even though we don’t know what ACT might propose or what a Florida-designed test might look like, the issues that you already knew about PARCC were enough that you think…it should have been taken out of consideration?

A:  And maybe it’s going to force PARCC to go back and re-evaluate the testing that they have created, because if Florida has concerns other states have concerns. And maybe this will put them in a position where they’ve got to re-evaluate what they’re doing.


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