TAMPA — Few concepts have caused more confusion and controversy in education than “Common Core.”
Touted as more rigorous educational goals for primary and secondary school students, the standards will be fully ushered into classrooms in most states next school year, including Florida, which is in the process of tailoring them.
Last week, the Florida Department of Education rolled out 98 proposed changes to the Common Core standards, which the department now refers to as “Florida Standards.”
The state Board of Education will hear a report on the changes at a 9 a.m. meeting in Miami on Tuesday and is expected to vote on them next month.
For those who don’t quite understand Common Core - or what all the fuss is about - here are 10 questions and answers:
1. What exactly is Common Core?
A set of language arts and math skills students will be expected to master by the end of each grade from kindergarten to grade 12. Skills related to media and technology use are incorporated throughout the standards. They have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Florida adopted them in 2010, and all classrooms will be using them by next school year.
2. Why were new standards created and where did they come from?
As American students lag behind some of their international peers in education, the idea for the common standards came about as a way to better prepare U.S. students to compete in the global workforce. Additionally, they will provide a way to do state-to-state comparisons of how students are doing.
3. Is the Common Core mandated by the federal government?
The short answer is no. The standards were launched in 2009 through a partnership between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, not the federal government. While U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has encouraged states to adopt common standards, the Common Core is not a requirement.
4. Who supports the Common Core?
Many teachers, school district leaders and business people like the concept of the Common Core and say it does a good job of raising the bar and helping students build deeper critical thinking skills. Some are wary about how testing will be conducted, which is still an unknown.
Backers like that students will be able to move from one state to another and face the same expectations, aside from the handful of states that did not adopt the standards (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. Minnesota is using only the language arts standards).
5. And who are its opponents?
Opposition from parents, politicians and others started mounting across party lines in Florida and throughout the country over the summer.
The fear that the Common Core means federal takeover and less control by local school districts is one of the biggest complaints. In Florida, various grassroots groups have formed to speak out against the standards. One is the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition – a group of parents, grandparents, small business owners and others.
6. Can states make changes to the standards?
Yes. Florida education officials last week rolled out 98 tweaks and additions that came as a result of 19,000 public comments the department has gathered since October. A set of calculus standards was added, as well as cursive writing requirements.
7. Why did Florida rename its standards?
State education officials say changing the name is the most honest and least confusing way to refer to the standards, which now have significant changes, such as the new calculus goals, from Common Core standards. The Florida Standards include skills in all subjects, in addition to the Common Core language arts and math components, Florida Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick said.
8. Will the FCAT be replaced?
That is the plan. Florida is slated to choose a test aligned to the Common Core by March, and students are supposed to take it for the first time next school year.
9. Do the standards dictate how a teacher will teach the material?
No. The Common Core is a set of expectations, not a curriculum. It is up to local school districts to decide how to teach to best help students master each skill.
10. How will children learn differently with Common Core?
The standards are said to be more rigorous and have students learn to think deeper. Rather than answering questions based on opinions, students will learn to support their answers with evidence.