The Florida Department of Education’s academic standards listening tour passed through Tampa on Thursday, with about 75 teachers, parents and other education advocates from all points on the spectrum turning out to offer their perspective on what the state’s public school children should be learning.
Their messages ranged from all-out pleas of “leave our standards alone,” to complaints that the state’s effort to kill the Common Core as Gov. Ron DeSantis promised is a “great improvement ... but not yet a replacement.”
In other words, similar feedback to what department officials have received throughout the state.
K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva, who has led the sessions, acknowledged afterward that some of the views are diametrically opposed and could prove difficult to resolve. But he stressed that the input already has impacted the draft that the department has put together.
Several speakers at multiple venues have criticized the attempt to clarify the standards as making them too vague and simplistic, for example, Oliva noted, and the staff is working to improve the wording as a result.
“We have heard strong suggestions,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview. “Our third draft will look different from our second.”
And that, too, will go to the public for added comments — most likely in December. Oliva said that round of hearings will pass through south Florida, something that didn’t take place this time around, much to the consternation of United Teachers of Dade officials.
A few UTD leaders traveled to Tampa to make their displeasure known regarding both the choice of locations and the decision to change standards.
“This just appears to be another political scheme,” UTD first vice president Antonio White said, suggesting the change will benefit textbook and testing publishers more than students.
He urged the department to trust teachers. By and large, those teachers encouraged the state to keep intact the current standards, which they called demanding and challenging.
By contrast, some speakers said they would have preferred the state not just adjust the existing benchmarks, but rather dump them completely in favor of the requirements in other states that never adopted Common Core. They pointed to examples such as Minnesota’s math standards.
The Common Core, which undergirds the Florida Standards, is an “educational disaster,” said Karen Effrem, who leads the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and called for more work to find developmentally appropriate standards.
Asked if the ongoing revisions would get rid of every last vestige of the Common Core, as the governor has sought, Oliva pointed out that many of the expectations are fundamental and preceded the controversial set of standards. The state will build upon them and sharpen them, and in the end the initiative will differ significantly from the model that Florida adopted in 2010, he said.
Many of the standards are being rewritten to make them more clear and more easily measured, he explained. Some are being moved to different grade levels. Others are being deleted. Specific examples are being removed to give teachers more flexibility.
After all that is settled, Oliva continued, the state’s approved textbooks and other instructional materials will be changing, too, to align with the new expectations. That’s why the state postponed new materials adoptions in language arts and math. Updated tests should follow — perhaps with more use of nationally norm-referenced tests, if that works out.
The transition will take time, Oliva said. Addressing teacher concerns that it took them years to adjust to the current demands, he said the state will provide adequate time and support to help teachers prepare for the next changes.
He rejected the idea, though, that no fixes are needed. He pointed to the several speakers who contended the language arts demands placed upon the youngest grades are inappropriate, and said those are among those needing a closer look.
“I believe in cycles of continuous improvement,” Oliva said.
He did not completely rule out recommending no changes, as large percentages of respondents to surveys and questionnaires have suggested. The research continues, and the department is collecting evidence that will guide the state toward the best standards in the nation.
One retired teacher questioned how the state could measure that goal, while also criticizing the department for rushing. If nothing else, the teacher said, Florida will have the fastest written standards.
Oliva said he looked at this aim through a longer lens.
“I like to think of it as conditions that set up students for success,” he said.
If the state establishes clear, concise and solid benchmarks that build upon themselves from grade level to grade level, and provide appropriate supports for teachers along with adequate assessments of progress, that will ensure Florida has the best conditions for students to learn, Oliva said. And that, he said, must remain the guiding principle.
“Doing what is right for students is our north star,” he said.
The listening tour continues next week, with stops in St. Johns, Jasper and DeFuniak Springs.