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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Politics

Common Core driving school races

BY Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster
Tribune-Scripps Capital Bureau

Published:

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It’s a hot topic this political season.

The Common Core education standards were discussed in campaign forums and meet-and-greets.

Some school board candidates have promised to expel them from Florida if elected. So, too, have some congressional candidates and state House and Senate hopefuls.

Whether they will succeed, as voters head to the polls today to nominate or choose candidates, remains in doubt.

“You have school board members that are running on platforms of overthrowing Common Core,” said Will Miller, a political science professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine. “It isn’t going to happen.”

Still, it is important to shine the light on the education standards because “it is controlling the destiny of children,” said Karen Effrem, executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.

“It is taking control from families and local school districts,” Effrem said. “There’s nowhere for parents to go to say these programs are not working for my child.”

The standards were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. More than 40 states have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which were created to prepare high school students for college or to enter the workforce.

Florida was one of the early adopters of the standards. However, in the past year Gov. Rick Scott asked the state Department of Education to go through a public review of the standards to make sure they cover skills Florida students need.

This year, the state Board of Education adopted proposed changes and additions, including adding cursive and changing some math standards. Those modified standards are now called Florida Standards.

But opponents said the standards are just Common Core by a different name, and they are hoping voters agree.

“It crosses party lines,” said Denise Donohue, a Southwest Florida education professor. “It’s one of those very emotional issues because it deals with our children. Because there is emotion involved, that spills out to the choices that people are making.”

Education is going to be a key issue this election cycle, and Donohue said she expects Common Core standards to be in the center of the political storm. She said many people don’t want politicians in office who are only advocating for “college and career standards for students.”

“It has taken away from other options,” she said.

Barbara Berry, a Collier County School Board member, said it’s easy for candidates to talk about how they would get rid of the standards if elected. But once elected, Berry said, candidates have to adhere to Florida law.

“I do have concerns, absolutely I do,” said Berry, who wasn’t speaking on behalf of the school board. “But it doesn’t make any difference when I’m sitting on the board.”

As a school board member, Berry said, she has to make sure resources are appropriate to educate students. She said Common Core standards are embedded in the new state standards and districts must work under guidelines set forth by the state.

Berry said she’s concerned that the standards haven’t been field tested to “tell me that these are the great and right way to go.”

Berry isn’t seeking re-election. She said she understands why candidates are campaigning on the standards but also knows a lot can change once they’re elected.

“It plays well to the public, and you can have that banner,” she said. “But I think the reality will click in.”

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has concerns of her own about the standards, particularly the number of tests students are given and the content of those tests.

She said she doesn’t know how the standards became such a hot-button issue. She said the state has made several fixes to give more control to local school districts.

“It’s like a wildfire,” said Passidomo, who won re-election this year without a challenge. “Once it starts, it’s impossible to control, but eventually it’s going to burn out.”

Burnout might not happen soon, though. Miller, the political science professor, said as the gubernatorial election heats up, voters will use Scott and likely Democratic candidate Charlie Crist’s positions on the standards as a way to define the two men.

“It is a huge issue, and we will continue to make it so,” Stop Common Core’s Effrem said.

This election won’t be the last time Floridians hear about Common Core. Effrem said it will be an issue into the 2016 presidential election, especially since the standards were backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, often mentioned as a potential presidential contender.

“It’s an education reform, and we’ve seen them come and go, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out,” Donohue said.

jmbuzzacco@naplesnews.com

(239) 263-4805

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