School & District Management

Open Questions Follow Governor’s Move to Scrap Fla. Standards

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 12, 2019 4 min read
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Of late, the Common Core State Standards have seemed to fade from public view, with either familiarity—or possibly neglect—providing some respite from years of political brouhaha.

But the decision by Florida’s newly elected governor to scotch the standards has again thrust the shared expectations into the limelight, and could prove to be costly for the Sunshine State.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the executive order to end use of the standards late last month.

By January 2020, the state education department must make recommendations on how to eliminate those standards “and ensure we return to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic,” the order states. The state education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, will submit the plan in time for the legislature’s 2020 session, DeSantis said.

The order fulfills one of DeSantis’ campaign promises, but leaves plenty of open questions about how long it will take for the state to untangle itself from the expectations and write new ones. Content standards are the foundation upon which the state’s year-end tests, textbooks, and curriculum choices ultimately rest.

It is also a sign of just how much Florida’s education politics have changed. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, also a Republican, and his nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, were unabashed champions of the common core.

Florida was one of 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, that adopted the common-core standards after they were rolled out in 2009. But as in dozens of other states, the standards ultimately became a political football in Florida, especially after the U.S. Department of Education encouraged their adoption.

Florida already made one batch of revisions to the standards in 2014, adding cursive writing and calculus pieces, among other things, and rebranding them to the “Florida Standards.” But they remain substantially similar to the common core.

Short- and Long-Term Impacts

In announcing the executive order, DeSantis noted that some parents had found the math standards confusing, but he steered clear of any specific references to the expectations. Despite the wording of the executive order, the standards currently do require students to read, write, and learn “standard algorithms” for arithmetic.

There has long been political pressure from some parts of the state to drop the standards, however. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, for example, argues the standards aren’t as rigorous as proponents claim. It also contends the standards and related tests “psychologically manipulate” students and are meant to inculcate them in various social values.

Concerns about supposed liberal biases have been ascendant in Florida education policy circles. A 2017 state law permits anyone in the state to challenge any part of local curricula on the grounds that they contain bias. Early challengers have asserted that history textbooks are too left-leaning and have contested the teaching of evolution and climate change in science texts. DeSantis has been receptive to those claims, even appointing two proponents of the law to his transition team.

Just how extensive the changes could be remains unclear, which made it difficult for superintendents to assess their impact on students, parents, and teachers.

Alberto Carvalho, who heads the Miami-Dade district, which serves more than 350,000 students, said the impacts could be “virtually none” in the short-term and “potentially substantial” over time.

Carvalho said he supports the revision if state officials truly scour the nation for the best possible replacement and consider slimming the state’s testing schedule. But, he said, there’s always a “domino effect” when states switch out their standards, which typically happens every seven years. For example, his district spent about three-and-a-half years before, during, and after the adoption of the common core to give teachers professional development and put materials in place.

“I would hope that timing for the transition is carefully considered, that it’s inclusive of appropriate PD for educators, that the review is carefully done in collaboration with practitioners, and witnessed by the parents,” Carvalho said.

Potentially, the changes could also gunk up the state’s latest textbook adoptions, which are well underway in math and set to begin this year for English/language arts. A spokeswoman for the state education department didn’t address those timelines when asked about them.

The Florida Education Association, a longstanding critic of standardized testing, said it sees the announcement as a chance to continue the conversation about ways to reduce testing burdens.

“A deliberate look at what students must know is always appropriate, and it’s very encouraging to hear that Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran plan to bring teachers and parents to the table as they go about reshaping Florida’s standards,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “We’re also pleased to hear that the administration will look at streamlining testing. Parents and our members cite time spent on testing—as versus on genuine teaching and learning—as one of their top concerns.”

The executive order also asks the commissioner to recommend ways to improve high school civics, “particularly the principles reflected in the United States Constitution,” so students are ready for citizenship. The state already has one of the most extensive civics education mandates in the country, requiring all students to study the topic and take an end-of-course test in middle school.

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Florida Mulls Next Move After Governor Scraps Standards

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