Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: A return to low academic standards for Florida?

For almost two decades, the United States has been working to improve its schools by holding them accountable for results on standardized tests. And there's been some success, with America's lowest performing students showing marked gains.

Unfortunately, similar progress hasn't been made for students in the middle or at the top. That shouldn't be surprising, since the standards and tests that most states — including in Florida — put into place were set at ridiculously low levels. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, in fact, encouraged this behavior by demanding that states aim to get 100 percent of their students to the "proficient" level by 2014 — but let the states define proficiency.

The Common Core State Standards, which Florida adopted in 2010, were the product of a multiyear state-led effort aimed at aligning school expectations for students with the demands of the real world (both college and modern jobs). The Thomas B. Fordham Institute — the conservative think tank where we examine policy issues and promote reforms in K-12 education — reviewed Florida's old standards as well as the Common Core State Standards and found them comparable. Yet Florida also set the bar quite low in the past by declaring many students at a "proficient" level who we really know to be performing at just a basic level on core English and mathematics skills.

Now we see the result of these shortsighted policies: Many young people have been taking and passing these standardized tests, yet still emerge from high school unready for college-level work in the core subjects, and unready for decent paying jobs. As a result, many were sent to "remediation" and so taxpayers paid twice to educate them. (According to a recent study, Florida taxpayers could have saved some $123 million in 2007-08 on such remediation.)

We have long advocated for higher, clearer school standards that focus on essential skills and vital knowledge to prepare students to be productive, self-sufficient citizens. We also believe that key education decisions belong with states, communities, teachers and parents and were therefore glad that the Common Core limited its work to standards and did not push into curriculum or instruction. To be clear, our support for the Common Core stems from the standards' quality and little else. We have been, for example, far less supportive of a similar multistate effort around science standards because we fear the final product is less worthy of adoption.

In recent months, we have been puzzled by the small but vocal minority of conservatives who have joined forces with some on the far left to oppose the Common Core. It's appropriate, of course, to worry about threats like federal intervention into schools, ideological indoctrination of students and poor-quality instruction. But the Common Core doesn't promote any of those things. Instead, it pushes schools, teachers and students to higher levels of achievement and deeper levels of skill-and-content knowledge than most have accomplished in the past.

Leaders in Florida should stand up to misguided and ill-informed political attacks and demand answers from both liberal and conservative critics of the Common Core: Would those on the left really remove testing and other measures that ensure that parents and teachers know whether students are learning all that they should — and how to help those who aren't? Would those on the right really have Floridians send their children to schools that are forced to scrap the standards they have spent time and money implementing and move to ones that might be worse?

We welcome debate over the Common Core, but the facts are clear: Florida, to its credit, has opted to raise expectations for student learning. Opponents have an obligation to say what they would do instead. If someone offers a better option, we will support it. If states choose to use flexibility built into the Common Core to improve their standards even more, we will support that, too.

In the meantime, however, something very promising is on the table. Attention and energy should go into devising the best way to put it into practice in Florida and to ensure that future tests report accurately on how students and schools are doing in relation to these ambitious standards. Florida made a choice for the better when it adopted the Common Core. It should not turn back now, especially under pressure from a few loud opponents without a better plan.

Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman are, respectively, executive vice president and national policy director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education policy think tank. Petrilli served in the George W. Bush administration and is also affiliated with the Hoover Institution while Brickman served as education policy adviser to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18