Today's news -- September 19, 2013



Scott considers executive action to address Common Core controversy

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is considering an executive order to address growing controversy over the Common Core State Standards. Scott provided few details Wednesday, but hinted that the order would involve the new tests aligned to the education standards. Florida was planning to use national exams created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have said Florida should develop its own plan for testing. "PARCC is too expensive and it takes too long," Scott said. "So I'm looking at a variety of things, whether it's an executive order, some administrative and some legislative, to try to fix that." Scott also said he would try to address what he called "too much federal involvement" -- an overture to tea party groups who consider the new benchmarks and tests an example of federal overreach. Scott's remarks came one day after state Board of Education members blasted him for failing to provide clear direction on the standards and exams, which will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Board member Kathleen Shanahan mentioned rumors that Scott might sign an executive order -- and said it would disrespect the education board's statutory responsibilities. Once a clear Common Core supporter, Scott is in a political bind. Tea party groups, which make up an important part of his base, want Florida to jettison the new standards and tests. But schools across the state are already teaching Common Core, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate are standing behind the benchmarks. The Common Core standards outline what is expected of students at each grade level but do not include suggestions for books or how teachers should plan their lessons. The benchmarks, created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, have been approved in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Scott was not clear on a timeline for executive action. "We'll do it as quickly as we can coalesce what we think is the right thing to do and still get information from people," he said. What's more, he would not say whether he specifically supports the Common Core standards. "Here's what I believe in. I believe in measurement," he said. "We've got to come up with an assessment that is fair for our students, our teachers, our parents and our schools."


High-stakes testing a problem (by Andrew Spar)

National standards are nothing new. Common Core standards are. For years, many in the business community have been saying that they need employees who can solve problems and understand complex manuals. Teachers have been asking for more time to truly build students’ understanding rather than just teaching memorization and testing techniques. Parents have been asking for consistency so that if they move from one state to another, their child does not suffer. After hearing all of this, the National Governors Association embarked on formalizing new standards. Teams of teachers and content experts went to work developing the new standards. Then the new standards were reviewed by teachers who provided input before the final release. In fact, several teachers from Volusia were part of that process. Additionally, states were asked if they wanted to participate. Nearly every state in this nation opted into the new Common Core Standards. So what is all the fuss about now? Common Core Standards are not the problem. The new standards expect students to be able to explain what they are doing, to problem-solve and to have a deep understanding of the content. The problem that we are seeing with Common Core has to do with implementation. It would seem logical that when you implement new standards you must have a transition period — time for teachers to learn the new standards and time for students to adjust. Unfortunately, in Florida and other states, there appears to be no willingness to allow for such a transition. We have become a test-driven education system. We continue to use the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, even though it is aligned with the old state standards and not the new Common Core. Since school grades, graduation and promotions all hinge on the FCAT, Florida’s so-called accountability system is unfair, not accurate and, in fact, is failing our children. Testing should not be first in education, students and their learning should be. Common Core is the right thing to do. The high-stakes environment is not. We need time to implement Common Core correctly -- which includes adopting a well-rounded curriculum that meets these standards, giving teachers and students time to adjust, and allowing for the careful development of fair, accurate assessments.  We need to put the brakes on high-stakes testing. We must reclaim the promise to ensure that our great public schools have an engaging curriculum and the resources and support for our students and teachers. (This story also includes two letters reacting to the commentary below)

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