Florida Board of Education approves Common Core changes

Special to redefinED

From the News Service of Florida:

Commissioner Stewart

Commissioner Stewart

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to go forward with dozens of changes to the Common Core State Standards, a move that seemed unlikely to quell the grass-roots furor over the educational benchmarks.

The approval followed a raucous public hearing that seemed to indicate that passionate opposition to the benchmarks remains despite a concerted effort by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Education to tamp down conservative anger over the standards.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has argued that the changes, which include reinserting creative writing into the standards and explicitly including calculus guidelines, as well as the fact that the state has science and social studies standards that aren’t part of the Common Core, justify renaming the initiative as the “Florida Standards.”

Stewart told reporters after the vote that it made the state’s standards clear.

“The vote that the board took today certainly does lay to rest where we’re headed, the direction we’re going with our standards, and this is the right move,” she said.

But dozens of activists slammed the standards during a lengthy public hearing before the vote, portraying Common Core as a federal plot to take over education and blaming it for a variety of ills. While the benchmarks were spearheaded by a coalition of state officials, they have since been encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education.

“I do not want a watered-down, world-class system; I want a school system that promotes American exceptionalism,” said Chris Quackenbush, a leader of the anti-Common Core movement.

At one point, Quackenbush and board chairman Gary Chartrand clashed over an attempt to stop audience members from clapping during the meeting. For a while, the crowd seemed to go along, waving their hands and at least one American flag instead of applauding.

Stacie Clark, another critic of the standards, said Common Core was already causing health problems in the state because of stress over homework and coursework given to students who are too young.

“There is an emergent psychological pandemic taking place among children in Florida,” she said. “It’s called Common Core, or it used to be until it was rebranded. Our children are suffering from anxiety attacks, vomiting, emotional outbursts, headaches and even self-mutilation.”

Terry Kemple, president of Community Issues Council, a Tampa Bay-area Christian advocacy group, was among those saying there could be consequences for elected officeholders, as opposed to the appointed Board of Education.

“We’re hopeful that the Legislature and the governor realize before it’s too late that there will be a political price to pay if they don’t take decisive action to stop Common Core now,” he said.

A few speakers at the hearing took up for Common Core.

“These Florida Standards will help our state and its students remain competitive in the global economy,” said Morgan McCord of Florida TaxWatch.

The board also seemed to indicate agreement with a set of changes to the school grading system, which Stewart will now take to the Legislature. The initiative is meant to simplify the often-confusing grading process while also setting the stage for a new test that will be used in the 2014-15 school year.

While schools will not face penalties for the grades they receive that year, Stewart said the grades would establish a starting point for future cycles. She dismissed the idea that the state should forget doing the grades altogether for fear that it could shock parents and teachers.

“We’ll still see that, but it will just be a year later, and I’m not sure the benefit by just waiting another year,” she said.

But Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said the changes to the grading were “cosmetic” and wouldn’t fix problems with the system.

“Florida needs a pause in this madness,” he said. “School grades are underpinned by high-stakes testing. Even with the education commissioner’s proposed grading simplification, grades will still be largely based on high stakes testing — a test we don?t even have yet.”

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