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State Board Works To Dispel 'Misinformation' About New Common Core Ed Standards

The State Board of Education, which oversees Florida’s public schools and community and state colleges, met Tuesday to get an overview of proposals making their way through the legislature. But board members took time to highlight what they say is a lot of confusion regarding one of the biggest education policy shifts Florida and more than 40 other state’s has seen in decades—the Common Core Standards.

By now many people have at least heard the term Common Core, and know that it’s associated with a change in what public school students are supposed to learn. But that’s about it. Because explaining Common Core, what it is, how it works, and what it will do, is hard:

“These enhance creativity at the local level. There are fewer of these standards. They are much higher and they’re much deeper," said Education Commissioner Tony Bennett during Tuesday’s State Board of Education Meeting.

Some people have described the program as a set of national education standards. A standard, is like a goal. It’s an expectation of what students should learn, and when. Under Common Core, students is more than 40 states will learn the same information at the same time. Right now, a fourth grader in California can be learning one skill, while a child in another state is learning something completely different.

What Common Core is not, though, is a nationalized education curriculum. A curriculum is the tool that’s used to meet the standard. In this case, it serves as a roadmap for educators to determine how to teach, and what to teach. A Curriculum is developed at the district level. And every state will still have full control over how things are taught. Something State Board of Education member John Padget wants to make abundantly clear.

“The Common Core is a state initiative. Period," he said.

About four years ago, the National Governor’s Association set out with a goal. Create a list of things all students should know. The group started with Math and Language arts, and together with the Council of Chief State School Officers, they released an outline, called the Common Core. Eventually, other states began to adopt those Common Core Standards and Florida was one of the first. Now, the state is working to implement the Common Core, and it’s done things like increase the passing score on state exams, in an effort to gradually increase expectations to meet the ones outlined in the new education standards. But as the state was doing this, it didn’t do a very good job of communicating with the people most critical to making the transition a success. Teachers.

“Here’s the hard truth. We lost time. The Department of Education treaded water for more than a year in not getting ready for Common Core Standards, and not making sure school districts got what they needed," said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz says the Florida Department of Education hasn’t done a very good job in training and explaining the Common Core system to teachers. And because of that, there’s a lot of confusion going around about what the state is doing and even what teachers are supposed to be teaching.  Florida has also begun phasing in the standards. They’re already in place for Kindergarten and first grade. By 2015-2016 they’ll be fully in place for elementary, middle and high schools. But last year, student scores on state exams fell sharply, leading some people, including lawmakers to begin questioning whether the state should call for a time-out. But Gaetz says it’s not time to write off Common Core just yet.

“I think we have to get about the business of doing it. Shame on the Department of Education, shame on those who didn’t step up to get the job done but I don’t think we wait around for another 2-3 years, I think we need to accelerate our efforts.”

The Common Core standards will also come with new tests. Florida is phasing out parts of its long-time Florida Comprehensive Assessment or FCAT to make room for the new exams. But they aren’t ready yet. And state officials aren’t sure they’ll be done in time for when students will be required to use them in 2016. So, right now, the State Board of Education is considering a “Plan B”.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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