The state Board of Education stood for academic excellence by unanimously reconfirming its support for the Common Core State Standards with reasonable changes for the Sunshine State. This should put to rest a monthslong disinformation campaign by conservative critics aimed more at ginning up dissent than improving Florida's public schools. Now the challenge is implementation and assessment, which the Legislature could improve upon by insisting school districts and teachers have more time to adjust to new curriculum and tests. Getting this transition right is more important than meeting arbitrary deadlines set four years ago.
In Florida, Common Core will now be known as the Florida Standards, a formal acknowledgment that the state has tweaked parts of the system of benchmarks to reflect its own priorities — such as continuing to teach cursive writing and better lining up math standards with current instructional timelines. The governor-appointed education board unanimously approved the changes Tuesday in Orlando, even as its members were stared down by a sometimes-booing, heckling crowd. The protesters continued to repeat the canard that Common Core is a federal government idea, when actually it was the states, through the bipartisan National Governors Association, that sought to set the bar higher for American students amid the emerging global economy. Florida is one of 45 states that has embraced the effort.
Now state leaders' responsibility is to shift their focus to successful implementation. Just as they found a need to adjust the benchmarks, they should also be willing to adjust what has become an overly ambitious timeline. The situation was created in part because Republican legislative leaders, in a misguided and unsuccessful effort to appease tea party critics, pushed the state to back out of a national consortium developing the tests. Now Florida is barreling toward using new tests in 2014-15 despite not yet picking a testing company to design them, leaving little time for vetting, much less field-testing, the exams.
The rush has prompted the state's superintendents, the teachers union and the Florida PTA to request the state suspend the state's school grading system next year. Instead, the Board of Education indicated support for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's proposed charade of continuing school grades for 2014-15 with no consequences — just to keep the string going. That would further erode public confidence in a grading system that already is discredited.
Florida should take a cue from New York, one of the earliest adopters of the Common Core State Standards. The New York Times reported this week that the state is finding supporters are turning into critics, not because of the standards but because of the way the state has chosen to implement them — by rushing ahead and testing students before they had appropriate assessments. Florida is now contemplating the same thing.
The Board of Education stood for high standards on Tuesday. Now the Legislature should set aside a discredited accountability system in favor of one that gives school districts ample time to implement the new Florida Standards.