Reasonable people can disagree about the direction of public school reform. But reasonable people don't misconstrue facts or invent falsehoods. Three recent Florida public hearings reaffirmed that much of the assault on Common Core State Standards is based on ignorance or lies. And by pandering to a vocal minority spreading incorrect information, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders are further undermining the drive for better public schools. Instead of playing politics, Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz should be informing the public about Common Core so educators can get on with the business of improving public schools.
The hearings initiated by the governor follow two other developments that signal Scott and legislative leaders are cooling on Common Core just four years after the state embraced the standards and as schools statewide are implementing them. The state Board of Education, at Scott's request, has declined to endorse supplemental support materials — a purely political decision since school districts would not have been required to use them. And earlier this year, Scott, with the blessing of Weatherford and Gaetz, forced the state to withdraw from a multistate group focused on building the standardized tests to align with Common Core standards.
The public hearings just confirmed the governor is more interested in appealing to his tea party base than improving education. At the hearings in Tampa, Davie and Tallahassee, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart opted to listen as speakers miscast the program established by the National Governors Association (not the federal government) and now embraced by 45 states.
Among the false claims: Teachers weren't involved in developing Common Core; English teachers would have to spend half their instructional reading time on nonfiction texts; the government would be collecting dramatically more information on individual students; and Common Core would be used to promote religious and political beliefs to students. PolitiFact Florida gave all four statements false ratings.
There are reasonable concerns when it comes to the implementation of Common Core — such as ensuring standardized assessments don't take too much time from instruction. Indeed, educators have warned for years that the transition to the new standards would be rocky even before the backlash grew. But rather than put their energy where it would do the most good for Florida's children — by fostering constructive debate on how to improve the implementation — the governor, House speaker and Senate president are enabling a campaign based in falsehoods. That's not leadership, and the big losers are Florida's students.