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  1. Education

A new challenge for Common Core — from the left

Published Aug. 26, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Conventional wisdom held that liberals and teachers supported the new Common Core curriculum standards.

Until the Badass Teachers Association crashed the party.

The 25,000 BATs, as they call themselves, are pushing back against the national standards with Twitter strikes, town hall meetings and snarky Internet memes. They have no qualms with the theory behind the new benchmarks, but they fear the larger movement places too much emphasis on testing and will stifle creativity in the classroom.

"It's not just the tea party that's skeptical of the Common Core," said Bonnie Cunard, a Fort Myers teacher who manages the Facebook page for the 1,200 Florida BATs. "We on the left, like the folks on the right, are saying we want local control."

The BATs represent a new wave of liberal opposition to the Common Core standards, which includes some union leaders, progressive activists and Democratic lawmakers. They are joining forces with tea party groups and libertarians, who want states like Florida to slow down efforts to adopt the new benchmarks and corresponding tests.

They face an uphill battle. The Common Core standards have a strong base of support that includes Democrats and Republicans. What's more, the standards are being taught across all grade levels in Florida.

"Our commitment (to the Common Core) is strong because it is the best decision for the future of our state and most importantly, the future of our students," interim state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a statement.

The Common Core State Standards — and the controversy surrounding them — will be discussed today at Gov. Rick Scott's education summit in Clearwater.

They have been approved in 45 states and in the District of Columbia. Supporters say the new benchmarks will raise expectations for children nationwide by encouraging critical and analytical thinking, while allowing for a comparison of student performance across state lines.

Tea party groups and libertarians, however, consider the initiative an overreach of the federal government.

Critics on the left have different qualms.

"The liberal critique of Common Core is that this a huge profit-making enterprise that costs school districts a tremendous amount of money, and pushes out the things kids love about school, like art and music," said Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York and co-founder of the Badass Teacher Association.

It's not only the BATs.

"The sand is shifting for us on Common Core," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

Ford fears teachers weren't adequately prepared for the transition to the new standards, even though they will be evaluated — and in some cases, compensated — based on how well their students perform.

For Susan Smith, who heads the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, the greatest concern is the testing that will accompany the new benchmarks.

"We shouldn't be revamping our education standards without first considering if we are overtesting our kids," Smith said. "That's putting the cart before the horse."

But Democrats who support the move to Common Core, including Charles Barone of the national organization Democrats for Education Reform, say the tests being developed around the new standards should make liberals happy.

"The tests that are coming out to be aligned with Common Core address the concerns that liberals have about testing," Barone said. "They're about more than memorization and multiple choice."

To be sure, there are still plenty of Democrats who support the Common Core initiative, from the Obama Administration down to teachers and parents on the local level. And in Florida, the movement still enjoys widespread support from the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But the opposition is strong enough that state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, is calling for a review before Florida moves further ahead with the standards and accompanying exams.

"I get what the intention was with Common Core," said Bullard, a teacher. "But it got lost in the shuffle with all of the other education reform policies. Now, you might as well scrap the whole idea."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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