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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Editorials

Side-stepping Common Core

Published:

It is possible no great harm will come from Gov. Rick Scott’s attempt to appease Common Core State Standards critics with a political jitterbug around the issue.

But we wish the governor had demonstrated a Jeb Bush-like moxie and simply offered the public some straight talk about the inflated fears of Common Core.

Instead, Scott sought political cover by withdrawing from a national consortium developing tests for the tough academic standards.

He also called for public hearings about possible changes to Common Core, though he didn’t suggest the state abandon the standards.

All this was clearly intended to appease tea party groups and other Common Core opponents, who fear it represents a federal effort to nationalize education.

We don’t dispute the need to be cautious about federal involvement in such matters, which can easily lead to Washington control. But Common Core is a product of the states, rooted in the school accountability movement that Bush championed.

Its goal is to produce high school graduates who are prepared for college or the workplace, not to teach children to genuflect to centralized government.

Yet Scott sought to inflame such sentiment when he called for the state education department to pull out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a partnership of 19 states developing tests to measure the Common Core standards.

The governor said the consortium had become a vehicle for the federal government “to involve itself in the state-level decisions on academic standards and assessments.”

The feds do provide funding for the tests’ development, and it is hardly inconceivable they would exert too much influence, though Scott offered no such details.

Regardless, the state still must adopt tests that objectively measure Florida students’ progress against students across the nation.

Other states and groups are developing the tests, and Scott says Florida will issue bids for testing firms to provide them and that PARCC can be among them — an odd stance given that he just sacrificed the state’s ability to oversee the development of the exams.

The priority should be the adoption of tests that offer national comparisons. The state must not go its own way and come up with another FCAT-like test that provides no national comparisons.

Those who fear Common Core standards too often confuse standards with curriculum.

Common Core’s broad national standards are designed to ensure American students have mastered key academic concepts, and are not simply learning enough information to check a test box.

Yet Common Core, supported by 45 states, does not diminish the state’s control of curriculum. State and local officials still determine what is taught in the classroom and how it is taught.

Indeed, the Common Core standards provide states a powerful tool for determining whether their schools are meeting the needs of the marketplace.

If the state does not retreat from Common Core standards and adopts tests that provide a national measuring tool, then Scott’s gyrations will be of little consequence, and perhaps will ease some of citizens’ fears.

But if his actions cascade into a retreat from high academic standards and national assessments, then the governor can be faulted for derailing Bush’s effort to put Florida on the path to academic excellence.

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