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Florida has new school standards. Did it dump the Common Core?

Gov. Ron DeSantis called for changes soon after taking office.
Chancellor Jacob Oliva explains recommended new academic standards in language arts and math to the Florida Board of Education at a Feb. 12, 2020, meeting in Tallahassee. The board unanimously adopted the proposal. [Florida Department of Education]

As expected, the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously replaced the state’s expectations for language arts and math with new ones that Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted as eliminating the Common Core.

The change had been a DeSantis campaign promise, and he issued an executive order soon after taking office to make it so.

Related: Fifth time in 24 years. Why Florida is changing school standards, again

Before the vote, though, some board members had some concerns that the changes were not as monumental as advertised.

Board member Michael Olenick noted social media chatter that suggested the new standards, called Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST), were substantively not that different.

“Could you just answer that question whether or not this is Common Core Phase 2?” Olenick asked K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva, who presented the standards to the board.

Oliva acknowledged that some lessons would certainly transfer from one set of standards to the next. Kindergartners learn the alphabet, he said, and third graders begin to learn multiplication.

But when it comes to how the information is presented, and how the material progresses from year to year, among other things, the standards are very different, Oliva said.

“It’s not the same in any way,” commissioner Richard Corcoran chimed in. “It’s a complete eradication.”

Shortly after the conversation took place, critics took to social media to suggest that the standards in many ways are merely reshuffling the same deck.

But in the meeting room, criticism was harder to find.

A representative from the Florida PTA praised the effort, calling the methods to get there “simply the best.” Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now, a group that has fought the state’s education system, offered muted disapproval, noting that many people loved the Common Core until they saw how it was implemented.

She called on the board to pause the accountability testing system during the transition, and urged the Department of Education to continue collecting feedback to ensure the standards are improved as needed.

Superintendents from Leon and Wakulla counties both offered strong support.

Concerns about implementation were the biggest issue for board members. Vice chairwoman Marva Johnson said it is critical to ensure that parents and educators alike are well prepared to use the standards.

Board member Ryan Petty, attending his first session, added that it’s important for the state to fully fund training on the standards. He noted the House has $2.7 million in its budget to accomplish this task, but the Senate has nothing in its budget, and offered to lobby for funding.

Oliva noted that the rollout of the standards will take three years. That will include time to adopt new course descriptions, seek revised instructional materials and align state tests to the new expectations.

Board members said they were pleased with the standards, which they deemed a ‘big deal.’ They liked everything from the more approachable math and the inclusion of civics, to the name BEST.

They expect to begin reviewing updated course descriptions as early as next month.

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