State Ed Board Says Common Core Not A 'Dirty Word' Amid Ongoing Controversy

Oct 15, 2013

The Florida Department of Education is trying really hard not to use the words Common Core, even as the standards remain in place.

“Until we’ve collected all the public input and made recommendations to this board, I don’t think we know what we’re going to call it," said Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The dustup over the use of the words "common core" came during a Tuesday State Board of Education meeting where members heard a proposal from DOE on its messaging efforts around the standards.The board, which Stewart answers to, has been very clear about its support for Common Core. Last month it passed a resolution reinforcing its support for the standards. 

Several board members, including Chairman Gary Chartrand, don’t like the Department’s exclusion of the words “Common Core”.

“I believe Common Core state standards is not a dirty word. It’s something people understand. It is a lightning rod, I understand, with a lot of emotion around it, but let’s not back away from it. That’s my final comment," Chartrand said.

The Department of Education is hosting three town hall meetings across the state this week to gather feedback on Florida’s standards, as outlined in an executive order from Governor Rick Scott. Stewart finds herself trying to heed the Governor’s expectation the state distance itself from Common Core and the state board’s push to keep the standards.

The group on Tuesday did however, address another part of Scott's order. It voted to reject many of the so-called "exemplars" outlined in the standards. The examples, such as potential reading lists and math problems, have been singled out by critics of Common Core as evidence of national overreach into local curriculum authority. But as state board member Barbara Feingold points out, just because the board has agreed not to mandate  districts use the Common Core examples, doesn’t mean districts have to comply:

“If a district decides to continue using these appendices in part or in full, it would go through a curriculum specialist also. So, between teachers, curriculum specialist/ district decisions, they are still able to make those decisions by district.”

Common Core, which was developed by the National Governors Association and adopted by more than 40 states, does not dictate curriculum. What it does do, through the examples, is provide a way for districts to judge whether their instructional materials are good enough to meet Common Core standards.

In a 4-2 vote, the board also extended a rule preventing school grades from dropping more than a letter. The position was backed by Scott. 

The so-called “safety net” rule will stay in place until the 2014-15 school year, after new exams aligned with Common Core state standards are in place. But not all board members agree the rule should exist that long. Outgoing board member Kathleen Shanahan and Board Chairman Gary Chartrand both say the move doesn’t solve the underlying problem -- the state’s school grading formula no longer reflects how well schools perform:

“Isn’t that sad that we’re sitting here voting on something that won’t have any integrity?" Shanahan said, referring to the underlying problems in the school grading formula, which aren't being addressed.

Board Chairman Gary Chartrand agreed the rule is,  "unfortunate", but that he doesn't, "see any way around it, because if you don’t vote for it, they won’t have any integrity either.”  

Chartrand voted for the rule to stay in place, while Shanahan was one of two no votes.