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Department Of Ed Overhaul Runs Into Headwinds Due To Common Core Concerns

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is going through the Department of Education’s job descriptions to see what’s necessary, and what’s not. Bennett’s reorganization efforts are aimed at making the department more efficient. But in his initial efforts to make his agency leaner, Bennett says he failed to realize one key thing:

"There are a lot of positions in the Florida Department of Education that are outlined in statute. I have to tell you, I didn’t know that.” 

Jobs created by the legislature can only be cut by the legislature. And that’s put a bit of a damper on Bennett’s plans. But not so much that he’s abandoning his overhaul goals. The commissioner says his goal is to steer more resources from the state down to schools.  Bennett is driving what he calls his "90-60-90-90" plan: and he believes the department’s structure should center around those goals:

“Ninety percent of students will be at grade level , 60 percent will graduate with advanced placement, dual credit or certification; Ninety percent will graduate in four years and 90 percent will be successful in post-secondary," he said during the State Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

But longtime board member Kathleen Shanahan says the conversation about a department re-organization is distracting. That’s because with each new administration the agency gets a new focus and is reshaped to match the vision of whoever is in charge. It also happens when new commissioners are appointed and even when a governor gets re-elected. And Shanahan worries it comes at a bad time:

“Tallahassee is a small town and re-organization is a big word. People’s lives are impacted. That’s just the way it is. With all due respect, it happens every four years," she said.

Furthermore, the state is also trying to fight misinformation stemming from Florida’s transition to a set of education goals adopted by almost every state. Those goals, also known as standards, are called the Common Core, and consist of a set of expectations students should learn and when. Florida is still trying to get all of the tests together as well as train teachers on the new standards, and Shanahan says the state is losing the battle to convince the public that the common core standards are a worthwhile pursuit.

“We’re lost in fighting this battle over standards. If you listen to talk radio and everything that’s out there, this wave is coming to kill common core. So I just don’t want to be seen as a board lost in a re-org, which I think is important. But it should all be through common core and the 90-60-90-90.”   

The state is slowly phasing in new standards in language arts and math that require students to do more critical thinking. The Common Core standards were created by the National Governor’s Association, with input from teachers and industry leaders. Florida was an early adopter of the program, which is set to be fully in place in all grade levels by 2016.