August 9, 2022

Rick Scott plays both sides in Common Core debate

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is halting development of a new statewide test tied to the Common Core education standards but letting schools continue to implement the hotly debated education benchmarks aimed at making students better prepared for college.

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Amid growing pressure from Common Core opponents, Scott on Monday announced Florida will pull out of a standardized test being developed with 45 other states. Instead, Florida will have an open bid process to develop a different exam — though still geared toward Common Core standards — for the next school year.

The decision does not affect student testing in public schools this year, said Jane Goodwin, chairwoman of the Sarasota County School Board. Students will still be tested under the current Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

But while the testing for Common Core is in limbo, Scott did nothing to halt the implementation of the new education standards that school districts have been gradually integrating in classrooms since 2010.

Scott’s two-pronged action Monday is his boldest step yet in addressing a brewing political crisis squeezing him between popular GOP conservative leaders such as Jeb Bush and a Tea-Party-infused base opposed to everything that the new education standards represent.

“We agree that we should say ‘yes’ to high standards for Florida students and ‘no’ to the federal government’s overreach into our education system,” Scott said in a statement to the media after issuing his executive order to scrap the state’s role in the new standardized test.

As part of his executive order, Scott also announced a thorough review of security and handling of student data to assure student privacy is being protected — a common criticism of groups opposed to the new standards.

Scott clearly is hoping his moves will show Common Core opponents definitively that the federal government is not leading a takeover of local schools and Florida has a voice in developing its own program. His action comes as anti-Common Core groups have scheduled an event Wednesday to draw attention to their cause in Tallahassee and lobby lawmakers, who are holding committee meetings in preparation for the 2014 session this week.

Sarasota Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters has been one of the critics of Common Core and seemed to embrace Scott’s approach. The county party under his leadership started a petition drive in August declaring Common Core to be a federal takeover of the education system.

“For some time now, we’ve raised concerns on how far we want to allow the federal government to have a say in how Florida’s system of education is administered,” Gruters said. “Today, we’re proud that Gov. Scott took our concerns to heart and laid out a path that will enhance Florida’s education system.”

At the same time, Scott won praise from the other side of the debate over Common Core for what he didn’t say. Namely, Scott gave no indication that Florida was ready to repeal Common Core standards.

For months, anti-Common Core groups have pushed state lawmakers to block the math and language arts standards from being implemented — even though many districts are years into the program. Their concern is that the standards — which they say are not rigorous enough — will lead to nationalized curriculum that will give locals less control over what is taught in school.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said there will be public hearings to listen to public input on “tweaking” standards, but the state was nonetheless committed to higher standards.

That’s what the Foundation for Florida’s Future wants to hear. That Bush-led education advocacy group has been key in developing Common Core standards as a way for states to see how their students are measuring up against students from other states.

“I am encouraged by Gov. Scott’s continued commitment to the thoughtful implementation of Florida’s Common Core standards while he also seeks input from the public,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

For Scott the political tension over Common Core could not come at a worse time.

Scott has been trying to rebrand himself as the state’s education governor after enacting $1 billion in education cuts in his first year in office in 2011. But with Common Core, Scott found himself taking heat from supporters of the higher standards for not standing up more forcefully for them and from opponents who complained he wasn’t addressing their concerns.

For supporters of Common Core, the standards are benchmarks for various subjects to assess whether students really know something or have just memorized answers. Instead of just answering a math problem correctly, students are supposed to be able to use critical thinking to explain why they came up with the correct answer.

But opponents say they are inferior standards that mine too much private information about students. They say it is designed to dictate local curricula from Washington.

Once a national test is developed, teachers will be under pressure to follow new national curricula to maximize the chances of students doing well on whatever assessment test is finally developed.