Common Core Roundup, Featuring a Florida Bill and Toni Morrison

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 29, 2013 4 min read
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With the beginning of the 2013-14 school year in many states and districts, political and policy developments concerning the Common Core State Standards continue to crop up. Here are a few highlights from the last several days:

• A bill to bring the common core to a halt in Florida has been introduced by state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican. As you can see from the legislation, it would require the state to stop implementing the common core until it conducts at least one public hearing on the English/language arts and math content standards, and a new financial analysis of the common core’s impact is performed. The bill has been pre-filed for the 2014 legislative session.

Florida just wrapped up an “education summit,” which was convened at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and other K-12 leaders, who perhaps welcomed the discussions about assessments and school accountability as a refreshing tonic to the headlines about former education commissioner Tony Bennett. One point raised during the summit was that the “safety net” for Florida schools (essentially a limit to how badly an individual school’s grades can drop) may be extended to the 2013-14 school year, if the state school board approves it in the fall. Earlier this year, not long before Bennett resigned, the board approved this safety net for school grades from the 2012-13 academic year.

But all those debates could get overshadowed if such anti-common-core legislation gets any traction. Before he resigned, Bennett told me that the state would decide whether to stick with or depart the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers by the end of this month. But when I contacted the Florida education department Aug. 28, a spokeswoman, Tiffany Cowie, indicated that there won’t be any decision made “hastily” and didn’t re-affirm Bennett’s August deadline. The longer the state waits to make a call on PARCC, the more it could muddy the state’s stance on both common core assessments, and the standards themselves. Remember, the Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford have already declared the state should leave PARCC.

• Members of the Michigan House of Representatives just wrapped up their final hearing on the common core, after 15 hours of testimony for and against the standards, according to Michigan Live reporter Brian Smith. (Among those testifying was a Michigan Army National Guard explaining why the common core was important to military education.) So what’s the outcome? The chairman of the House panel considering the common core, GOP Rep. Tim Kelly, indicated that the panel will convene within the next two weeks to make a formal recommendation on whether the mandated freeze on state spending on the common core, set to kick in Oct. 1, will remain in place. Kelly himself wouldn’t say which way he was leaning.

The resources available to school districts are an important issue for opponents of the standards in Michigan. Take Ben Lazarus, a school board member for the Warren Consolidated district in Michigan, who believes that the standards are being imposed on districts by the state. How does he view the standards playing out if they stay in place? “The schools that have the resources to keep up with the common core and meet those standards, meet those assessments, those will succeed, and those that don’t have them, will fail,” he told me.

However, as I point out in a piece this week, districts don’t appear to be slowing down very much, if at all, as they continue to implement the standards, regardless of testimony and debates at the state level.

• An Alabama legislator is demanding that the state ban the use of a book by Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, which is a suggested text (or “reading exemplar” if you prefer) to be used in conjunction with the common core for grade 11.

GOP Sen. Bill Holtzclaw says that the book’s depiction of incest and child molestation is completely inappropriate for students and should be removed. Apparently, earlier in the year when state lawmakers were considering bills that would have banned common core in the state, Holtzclaw didn’t support those efforts. What’s changed, perhaps? The Republican Party in a county Holtzclaw represents appeared to be on the verge of censuring him for failing to fight common core earlier this month.

I wrote about the reading exemplars when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, cited them as a reason he wanted the common core vetted more thoroughly by the George state school board. (Deal wants the board to draw up its own alternative suggested reading list.) Conservative groups that continue to advocate against the common core appear to be citing the exemplars more frequently as a reason to oppose the standards.

Incidentally, when Pennsylvania Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican, discussed his concern that the state was taking inappropriate control of education through initiatives like the common core during an Aug. 29 state senate hearing on the standards, he cited Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as a showcase for when American education was locally controlled, and when literacy thrived through Biblical study. What’s the irony? That seminal work by the French writer is a “reading exemplar” in the common core, alongside “The Bluest Eye” in the 11th grade.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.