What is Common Core?
It's the name for a new set of education standards that are said to be more specific, more complex and more rigorous than Florida's previous standards. They have been adopted by Florida and more than 40 other states. They lay out the knowledge and skills students are required to have in each grade, from kindergarten through high school. Officials say they will lead to changes in how children are taught and tested, and quicken the rate at which they are expected to learn. But the details of how these changes will look and feel in classrooms are being determined by state and local educators.
When will this happen?
Florida adopted the standards in 2010 and schools have been phasing them in over the past two years — especially in kindergarten through second grade. That process expands this year in grades three through 12. The transition is expected to be complete when schools reopen in August 2014.
Why the change?
The more rigorous standards are a response to reports that U.S. students underperform compared to their peers in many other countries, as well as criticism by business leaders that young Americans aren't graduating from high school and college with the skills they need for the business world.
Will the new standards mean a new test?
Yes. This is expected to be the last year for the controversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which started 15 years ago. Florida has been working to develop a new test through a multi-state consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC. But Gov. Rick Scott on Monday issued an executive order that will effectively remove Florida from PARCC. He directed Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to seek bids for a new test and asked the State Board of Education to approve the process. Scott strongly emphasized he was concerned about "federal government intrusion" in PARCC and that Florida classrooms would operate under "federal mandates." This conflicts with the Florida Department of Education's website, which asserts the federal government was not involved in developing Common Core and has had no role in developing a new test.
Did Scott take any other action Monday?
Yes. He urged the State Board of Education to hold public hearings on the new standards and to consider changing them if public input warrants it. Stewart said three public hearings would be held in October and a website would be set up to collect public comments. Scott also directed Stewart to review the security of student data. He cited fears that the federal government wants to use data on students' "psychological attitudes, values, and beliefs." This conflicts with the FDOE website, which attacks this fear point-by-point. It says in part: "The FDOE does not plan to collect this information as it is irrelevant to students' education."
How will the new standards change the classroom?
Teaching will look "increasingly different," the state says. Students will be reading more non-fiction or "informational" texts. The material will be more complex and teachers will focus more on how well students comprehend what they read. Students will be expected to write more and write better. They'll be pushed harder to explain what they write and back up assertions with hard evidence and examples. There will be more overlapping of subjects and greater emphasis will be placed on speaking and listening effectively, meaning more class discussions. In math, teachers will get students to master fewer concepts in more depth. Experts predict many students will struggle at first; grades and test scores may suffer. But they argue students will benefit in the end.