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Mounting opposition to Common Core reaching Florida

CLEARWATER — With the momentum behind Common Core shifting, as groups from across the political spectrum pressure states to rethink adopting the rigorous nationwide education standards, and Florida may soon follow suit.

State education leaders seem ready to move ahead with the new standards for the 2014-2015 school year, requiring students to do more reading, writing and critical thinking in all subject areas, and have dedicated lots of resources and man-hours toward training teachers and integrating the new standards into schools.

A bill filed Wednesday by state Rep. Debbie Mayfield hopes to stymie those efforts by preventing the State Board of Education from implementing the Common Core standards in any subject area other than math and English or from entering into or renewing an agreement that “cedes to an outside entity control over curricular standards or assessments.”

The Common Core, which has been approved in 45 states and the District of Columbia, was a big topic of discussion at a three-day education summit in Clearwater last week. The meeting was convened by Gov. Rick Scott, who cherry-picked 36 teachers, legislators, businessmen and parents to discuss key issues in education. When participants asked interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart what their conversations and suggestions would lead to, she said they were simply meant to “inform the discussion” about Common Core, not change policies already in place.

Before the group’s discussions on Common Core, standardized tests and school grading even began, though, members were issued seven “guiding principals” from Scott that indicated change may be imminent. One dismissed the PARCC assessment, the standardized test Florida is due to adopt for the 2014-2015 school year to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, as unwieldy and too expensive.

Most of the summit participants were ready to forge ahead with Common Core, saying it would ensure students are held to the highest academic expectations. The biggest challenge, and a new emphasis for the Department of Education, is “making sure parents are correctly informed,” said Pinellas County parent Linda Kearschner. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t even know what Common Core is, according to a recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll.

“I see real value in Common Core, it’s really important that our children, when they’re moving from one school to another, don’t loose ground,” Kearschner said. “We need to have those kinds of standards in place so we’re all aiming at the same target. Our children need to be able to graduate and have confidence that they’re going to be successful in college and globally competitive.”

But a gaggle of Common Core protestors at the summit symbolized the uneasiness sweeping the nation. In a survey from the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, 27 of 40 states that have adopted Common Core said it’s unlikely they would reverse, limit or change their decisions. Nevertheless, there are efforts to slow or block the standards in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah. The Republican National Committee has passed a resolution calling the standards an “inappropriate overreach,” and the Sarasota Republican Party on Thursday launched its own online petition to stop Common Core in Florida.

Testing may be the biggest reason why many states that once championed the Common Core are now getting cold feet, said Aaron Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Many of the assessments are much more expensive then the tests that states have successfully used for years and require technology upgrades to administer them on computers, he said.

Cost is just the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to opposition to the Common Core standards.

“There are critics on the left and the right, the left being concerned about having even more attention on high-stakes testing and the possibility that students are going to be exposed to standards and tests that are going to make them fail, whereas on the right the critics are concerned this is an unwarranted intrusion by the federal government that, although this is voluntary, there are all kinds of incentives in place to try to make it the de facto national curriculum,” Pallas said.

Though Laura Zorc, a member of the Florida Parents against Common Core, was invited to last week’s summit, the invitation seemed like more of a political stunt meant to sell participants on the idea of Common Core instead of a forum for parents and other stakeholders to have their concerns heard, she said.

The summit may not have halted Florida’s race toward the Common Core, but Mayfield’s bill just might, Zorc said.

“It’s not too late to back out, that’s just something the other side wants you to believe,” Zorc said. “The federal government doesn’t have the final say. It’s going to be the voters and the legislators.”

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