It should come as no surprise that the governor who rode the tea party wave into office nearly three years ago is willing to sacrifice public education to appease the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. Gov. Rick Scott's declaration Monday that Florida should withdraw from a group of states designing tests for the new Common Core State Standards is a serious setback for education reform. His path forward is a big step backward, and he has opened the door for misinformed critics of the standards to keep pushing for Florida to abandon them.
Scott had the audacity in his letter to the chairman of the state Board of Education to quote the Florida Constitution. It says "the education of children is a fundamental value" and that the state has to provide a system "that allows students to obtain a high quality education.'' He also proclaimed his commitment to high standards without specifically embracing the Common Core standards. Those words ring hollow when his actions put at risk the constitutional ideals he cites.
Like Common Core opponents, Scott continues to fan the flames about federal government intervention into public education. In fact, the Common Core State Standards are not a federal mandate and reflect a bipartisan consensus adopted by more than 40 states. They are aimed at better preparing students to enter the workforce or attend college, and providing broad standards that are consistent throughout the country. The strongest advocates of the standards include former Gov. Jeb Bush, who would be among the first to decry heavy-handed requirements from the federal government.
There is no compelling argument for Florida to withdraw from the group of states designing the Common Core tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The concerns raised by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz about cost and student privacy are exaggerated. The estimates tossed around about the time it would take for students to take the tests also are misleading. Florida was one of the leaders of the group, and the better approach would have been to work with other states to address concerns.
Instead, Scott wants to solicit bids to design Florida's own tests. There is neither the time nor the money to do that properly, and this state's recent experience with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test already has eroded public confidence in its ability to properly manage standardized tests. Any test results that cannot be easily compared to the results from other states undermine one of the fundamental goals of Common Core. Even if Florida decided to use the ACT or the SAT for high school students, that would not solve the problem for elementary and middle school students.
The only thing worse than leaving the group designing the tests is opening the door to rejecting the Common Core State Standards themselves. Scott did just that by demanding that the state reject samples of writing and math courses aimed at helping implement the standards, calling for more public input and inviting changes to Common Core standards the state embraced several years ago.
Scott insists he supports high education standards. But his actions Monday have nothing to do with improving public education and everything to do with politics — and they won't satisfy tea party supporters who won't rest until Florida rejects all of Common Core. Just last week, the state Board of Education reaffirmed its support for the Common Core Standards. Now the governor has signaled it's fine to trash them.