Special to redefinED
TALLAHASSEE — Pointing to feedback he received on the campaign trail, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said Florida will revamp education standards and eliminate “vestiges” of the politically unpopular Common Core standards.
DeSantis’ announcement came five years after then-Gov. Rick Scott took aim at the Common Core standards, which were developed by officials in 48 states and have particularly drawn criticism from Republican voters. The State Board of Education in 2014 adopted what are known as the Florida Standards, a move that involved making changes to Common Core.
DeSantis, who took office Jan. 8, said during a news conference Thursday in Lee County that parents expressed frustration to him about Common Core and issues such as standardized testing while he campaigned last year. He said he was directing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to undertake a process that will lead to new standards.
“I’m here to say when you complained about Common Core, I hear you, I told you I’d do something about it, and today we are acting to bring those promises into a reality,” DeSantis said.
Though Scott touted moving away from Common Core in 2014, Corcoran on Thursday said Florida has been “stuck” with Common Core and alluded to the Florida Standards as a rebranding.
“It’s all the same, it all needs to be looked at, it all needs to be scrutinized,” said Corcoran, who was a state House appropriations chairman in 2014 and later became House speaker. “And we need to sit down with the experts, the stakeholders, the great superintendents, the great leaders in the community and figure out how do we write the best, No. 1 standards in the United States of America.”
DeSantis said Corcoran will lead an effort during the coming year to develop standards and to address other issues, such as “streamlining” testing in schools. He said he expects the results of the process to go to the Legislature during the 2020 session.
The announcement drew praise from the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union that has frequently clashed with Republican leaders over issues such as standardized testing.
“A deliberate look at what students must know is always appropriate, and it’s very encouraging to hear that Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran plan to bring teachers and parents to the table as they go about reshaping Florida’s standards,” Fedrick Ingram, president of the union, said in a prepared statement. “We’re also pleased to hear that the administration will look at streamlining testing. Parents and our members cite time spent on testing — as versus on genuine teaching and learning — as one of their top concerns. If all stakeholders are heard, we have confidence that this effort can improve public education in Florida.”
Kurt Browning, superintendent of schools in Pasco County, said he supports “streamlining standardized testing” and other initiatives proposed by DeSantis, such as an increased focus on civics education. But Browning expressed caution about moving away from the current standards.
“I ask Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran to consider the amount of time, funding, and effort teachers, administrators, and school districts have invested in professional learning, curriculum, materials and resources that align with our current standards,” Browning said. “I understand that parents have had difficulty grasping some of the standards, and there may be a need to adjust some of them. My concern is that we not lose ground in the progress we have made toward ensuring our students are prepared for the demands of college and the workforce.”
Debates about school standards and testing have repeatedly flared in Florida during the past two decades. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who was elected in 1998, made controversial changes to the system that included a heavy emphasis on testing and holding schools accountable for student performance.
After being developed by leaders from across the country, the Common Core standards have been adopted by 41 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Common Core website. But the standards in recent years became toxic in Republican politics, with many grass-roots voters viewing the standards as a national overreach into schools.
By Keith Jacobs
Always look a man in the eyes. Stand up and give a firm handshake. Remember your manners. These simple yet effective rules instilled by my parents have been a pillar in my overall success. I am blessed to work in a field I love and to help raise two beautiful children who are reaping the benefits of hard work and education.
But how did this journey begin? My success is a product of how school choice provides opportunities for low-income families to escape the clutches of generational poverty.
I am the second youngest of six kids. I was raised to believe that the key to success is education. What was missing was an example of what this success looked like. Both of my parents worked three jobs, and neither of them attended college. Growing up in a low-income household in Tampa, I was not afforded the same opportunities as my peers. While they were focused on new clothes and shoes for school, I was focused on whether I was going to wear clothes that were too small, or if my brother had any clothes that he could hand down to me.
You see, education was an idea, a philosophy. It was not a tangible reward that I could see and understand given my surroundings. As a young, black male, the statistics would say I had a greater chance of being dead or in jail than graduating and going to college. I saw drugs, alcohol, and crime that plagued the streets around my middle school and wondered if there was a way to escape this reality.
Thankfully, the school choice movement that began brewing in the 1980s and ‘90s offered a lifeline: magnet schools. During this time, magnet schools were viewed as competition to traditional schools because they provided an opportunity for students to attend a school outside their neighborhood that met their individual needs.
My parents noticed my intellectual abilities but did not think they had options for me to excel in a high school. For low-income families like mine, the opportunity to attend the best schools seemed unattainable without the financial resources. There was no scholarship program that would have provided me with a quality education outside my ZIP code. This all changed with school choice.
Going into my freshman year, I applied for an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at a magnet school that was 10 miles away from my house and was accepted. This gave me a chance to experience what I would not have otherwise been exposed to in a traditional curriculum.
The thing about growing up in poverty is that even though I viewed school with the same enthusiasm as my peers, the difference laid in my ability to understand and adhere to cultural norms that were necessary to succeed in school. Poverty is a societal ill that is rectified with innovative ways to provide quality education for all students.
Today, these choices come in many forms: magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers and scholarship programs, education savings accounts, even virtual schools and micro-schools. They have proved popular with families. In Florida alone, some 1.7 million students – about 46 percent of all PreK-12 students – attend a school of choice.
Through school choice, I not only graduated from the IB program, I also was able to attend one of the most rigorous universities in the nation, the University of Florida, becoming the first college graduate in my family. It allowed me to pursue a master’s degree. Ultimately, it helped me provide a better quality of life for my children and end the cycle of poverty.
While legislators are debating who is cheating whom in education, there are millions of low-income children like I was who just want an equal chance to succeed. School choice gives them what they lack due to their economic circumstances — ownership.
Keith Jacobs is manager of the Charter School Initiative for Step Up For Students.
Jim Saunders / News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A fiercely divided Florida Supreme Court on Friday rejected a nearly decade-long lawsuit that challenged whether the state has properly carried out a 1998 constitutional amendment that called for ensuring a “high quality” system of public schools.
The decision upheld lower-court rulings and focused heavily on the role of the judiciary in addressing sweeping issues such as the quality of public schools. A main opinion shared by Chief Justice Charles Canady, Justice Alan Lawson and Associate Justice Edward LaRose said plaintiffs in the case failed “to present any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into the powers of the other branches of government.”
Canady, in a concurring opinion, was more pointed, saying the “manifest goal” of the plaintiffs and three dissenting justices “is to put educational funding and educational policy firmly under the control of the judiciary.”
“The judiciary is very good at making certain types of decisions — that is, judicial decisions,” wrote Canady, who was joined by Lawson and LaRose in the concurring opinion. “But it lacks the institutional competence — or the constitutional authority — to make the monumental funding and policy decisions that the petitioners (the plaintiffs) and the dissenters seek to shift to the judicial branch. And there is not a hint of any manageable judicial standards to apply in making those decisions. Instead, if the petitioners and the dissenters had their way, judges would simply apply their own policy preferences.”
Justice Jorge Labarga sided with Canady, Lawson and LaRose but did not sign on to the main opinion or the concurring opinion. LaRose is a judge on the 2nd District Court of Appeal but was added to the case after Justice Ricky Polston recused himself.
Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince joined in two dissenting opinions, with Pariente writing that the court majority “eviscerates” the 1998 constitutional amendment, “contrary to the clear intent of the voters, and abdicates its responsibility to interpret this critical provision.”
“My friends and colleagues in the majority make a very grave and harmful mistake today,” Lewis wrote in another dissent. “Although I understand their good-faith and well-intentioned approach, only time will truly reveal the depth of the injury inflicted upon Florida’s children. The words describing the right to a high quality education and the constitutional concept of protecting that right ring hollow without a remedy to protect the right.”
The 1998 constitutional amendment said it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.
The group Citizens for Strong Schools and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2009, arguing that Florida has not properly complied with the constitutional amendment and pointing to issues such as many students not being able to read at grade level. After holding a trial, however, a Leon County circuit judge ruled against the plaintiffs in 2016.
The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling and said arguments about the state failing to adequately provide for public schools “raise political questions not subject to judicial review.” That prompted the plaintiffs to appeal to the Supreme Court.
During oral arguments in November, plaintiffs’ attorney Jodi Siegel said the case should be sent back to a circuit judge to apply standards that would properly determine whether the state is meeting the constitutional requirements.
“We have current standards and current measurements that are showing significant disparities,” Siegel said at the time. “We had 670,000 children that are failing reading. So this is not a child or two. This is a systemic failure.”
But Rocco Testani, an attorney for the state, told justices that the state has made changes since 1998 that have led to significant improvements in the public-school system.
“It has been successful, it has worked,” Testani said. “It is not a system that anyone should be concerned is broken.”
The opinions Friday shared by Canady, Lawson and LaRose focused on issues such as the separation of powers between courts and other branches of government and the difficulty for judges in deciding such a “blanket” challenge to the education system.
“There is no reason to believe that the judiciary is competent to make these complex and difficult policy choices,” Canady wrote in the concurring opinion. “And there is every reason to believe that arrogating such policy choices to the judiciary would do great violence to the separation of powers established in our Constitution.”
But in her dissent, which was joined by Lewis and Quince, Pariente wrote that, with Friday’s decision, “the majority of this (Supreme) Court fails to provide any judicial remedy for the students who are at the center of this lawsuit — African American students, Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, and students who attend school in poorer school districts or attend persistently low-performing schools.”
“Certainly, I recognize that the task of making adequate provision for a high quality education is primarily for the Legislature. We are not legislators. We are justices charged with enforcing the rights set forth in Florida’s Constitution,” Pariente wrote. “That is why with (the part of the Constitution that includes the 1998 amendment), the citizens of this state intended for compliance — or noncompliance — with that provision to be adjudicated by the judiciary when properly brought to the court. Indeed, the task of construing the Constitution and determining whether the state is fulfilling its express obligations required by the Constitution — and the citizens of this state who approved the relevant constitutional language — is solely the judiciary’s task.”
By Lorraine McBride
Parental choice is the reason Lorraine McBride is not just another statistic.
I grew up as a minority student who was not finding success in the district school I was zoned for. I was often getting in trouble for playing around and not following the teacher’s directions in the classroom. My peers also influenced my behavior. School officials told my mother I would be placed in a different class because my behavior was too much for the teacher to handle. My mother was displeased. She knew there were more options. My mother asked around and eventually decided that private school would be a better learning environment for me. My mother found a second job in order to provide a quality education for me.
When I reached fifth grade, my mother enrolled me into St. Anthony’s Catholic School, in Dallas, Texas. It provided smaller class sizes, and a high emphasis on morals, religious beliefs and formal education. Those same principles were taught and practiced in my home.
My mother’s sacrifice paved the way for me to obtain my diploma from Bishop Dunne Catholic School. A few years later, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism from Florida A&M University. If my mother had settled for the alternative behavioral classes in my zoned school, I am not sure what path in life I would be on today.
There are millions of parents like my mom who want their children to excel academically. But far too many of them can’t access a school that is the right fit for their children, either because they can’t afford to move to the school zone they prefer, or because they can’t afford private school. Parental choice matters because it is one of the most important social justice issues of our time. It helps level the playing the field for these parents. It helps open doors of opportunity for their children.
Sometimes, the schools that are the best fit for an individual child may be non-traditional schools, in non-traditional environments, with different approaches to teaching and learning. Sometimes, these schools are criticized because they’re different. But I believe it’s the parent’s right to choose. And I trust that parents know better than anybody else what’s best for their precious child.
Parental choice motivates parents to become advocates to change the conditions of their child’s educational experience. Florida and many other states are fighting over how to better serve low-income communities and provide equal educational opportunities. Expanding parental choice isn’t the whole solution, but it’s part of it. My life is proof of that.
My mother had the freedom to choose the best educational environment for me. My holiday wish is for all parents to have that freedom to choose for their children.
Lorraine McBride is community affairs organizer for Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that administers four state-supported educational choice programs in Florida and hosts this blog.
COMING TOMORROW: Our #Wishlist series concludes with Step Up’s Strategic Communications Manager Scott Kent.