Renaming 'Common Core' standards does little to end Florida's education debate

Published Jan. 20, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — The state education department tried to distance itself from the controversial Common Core State Standards last week by recommending changes to the benchmarks and giving them a new name.

"The proposed standards are truly our own," Deputy Chancellor Mary Jane Tappen said during a Tuesday workshop on the freshly named "Florida Standards."

But is Florida really moving away from the national benchmarks, which have drawn tea party ire in recent months? Or are the suggested revisions a matter of semantics?

"At their heart, the standards in Florida are still Common Core standards," said Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with New America Foundation's Education Policy Program, noting that many of the proposed changes are minor.

Hyslop added: "The rebranding and messaging is largely political."

The Common Core State Standards outline what students should know at each grade level. They have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia and are already being used in schools throughout Florida.

The Common Core became a lightning rod in the summer when conservative critics branded the education standards an example of federal overreach.

Vocal opponents called on Florida to "withdraw" from the initiative and create standards of its own.

Since then, the phrase "Common Core" has been on its way out in Florida. It was so conspicuously absent from the October state Board of Education meeting that Chairman Gary Chartrand reassured his colleagues: "It's okay to say it."

" 'Common Core State Standards' is not a dirty word," Chartrand said.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers published a proposal to strike the words "Common Core" from state law.

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart introduced the name "Florida Standards" last week, alongside 98 recommended changes to the benchmarks.

The suggestions, which were drawn up based on thousands of public comments, included 52 new calculus standards and a cursive writing requirement.

A new name was not required. States using the Common Core standards are allowed to add up to 15 percent of their own benchmarks to what already exists.

Education department spokesman Joe Follick said the decision was made to help avoid confusion.

"With so many proposed changes to the standards since they were adopted by the (state Board of Education) in 2010, it seems most honest and clear to refer to them as Florida Standards," Follick said.

He added that the "Florida Standards" would encompass all of the state's education benchmarks, not just the math and reading guidelines that grew out of the Common Core.

Still, last week's announcement was enough to prompt some Common Core opponents to claim victory.

"While the governor did not say that we are (formally) pulling out of Common Core or the federal mandates associated with them, he seems to have found a way to get around them," Martin County Republican Committeeman Eric D. Miller wrote in an email to other Republicans last week. "I cannot express my enthusiasm strongly enough for these outcomes."

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But Randy Osborne, a political consultant and co-founder of Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, was not satisfied.

"Let's not just change the name," Osborne said. "We must pull out of it completely, get out of the system."

Follick, the education department spokesman, said the focus should not be on whether the standards are "Common Core" or not.

He noted that the benchmarks had been adopted by the state Board of Education, subject to "unprecedented" review, and would now face a second Board of Education vote.

"The focus is on putting the best standards in place to prepare children for success in college, in career and in life," he said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at