Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order to end the Sunshine State’s use of the Common Core State Standards.
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 to the legislature in time for its 2020 session, DeSantis said
The orderfulfills a campaign promise DeSantis made to end the standards, but leaves plenty of open questions about how long it will take for the state to untangle itself from the expectations. After all, 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 the state’s education politics have changed. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education 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, especially after the U.S. Department of Education encouraged their adoption.
Florida already made one batch of revisions to the common core back in 2014, adding cursive writing and calculus pieces among other things and rebranding them. But they remain substantially similar to the common core.
A Changing Political Landscape in Florida
It’s unclear what specifically DeSantis objects to in the standards, which do require students to read, write, and learn standard algorithms for arithmetic.
There has long been political pressure from some corners of the state to end the use of the standards, however. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, for example, claims the standards aren’t as rigorous as proponents say. 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. As Education Week has reported, a 2017 law permits anyone in the state to challenge any part of local curriculum decisions on the grounds that they contain bias. Early such challenges have asserted that history textbooks are too left-leaning and challenge the teaching of evolution and climate change. DeSantis has been receptive to those claims, even appointing two proponents of those laws to his transition team.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear just how extensive the changes could be, which made it challenging for superintendents to assess their impact on students, parents, and teachers.
“In the short term, virtually none. Long term, potentially substantial,” said Alberto Carvalho, who heads the Miami-Dade district, which serves more than 350,000 students.
Carvalho said he supports the revision—especially if state officials truly scour the nation for the best possible replacement and consider lightening the state’s testing schedule. But, he said, there’s always a “domino effect” when states switch out their standards. For example, his district spent about three-and-a-half years before, during, and after the adoption of the common core to prepare teachers 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.
The Florida Education Association sounded a cautiously optimistic note about the changes. A longstanding critic of testing, it sees the announcement as an opportunity to continue the conversation about appropriate testing policy.
“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 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. If all stakeholders are heard, we have confidence that this effort can improve public education in Florida.”
A Possible Boost for Civics Education?
The executive order also contains a few other provisions worth noting. It wants the commissioner to recommend ways to improve high school civics, “particularly the principles reflected in the United States Constitution,” so they’re ready for citizenship.
The state already has one of the most extensive civics education mandates of all the states, requiring all students to study the topic and take an end-of-course test in middle school making up nearly a third of their grade.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.