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Weeks After Education Summit, Frustration and Confusion Over Policies Remain

U.S. Department of State

The state has yet to make a decision when it comes to whether to keep new student learning goals in place, and longtime State Board of education member Kathleen Shanahan, is frustrated:

“From my perspective, we’re in crisis time. We’re still in the same mess we were in in July, and we still don’t have any options on the table.”

Shanahan, who was appointed to the board overseeing Florida’s  K-12 public schools and colleges by former Governor Jeb Bush, says she thinks the education summit convened last month by Governor Rick Scott has only muddied already murky waters when it comes to several key decisions facing the state in the next few months.

Those issues include how to fix the state’s school grading formula and how to smoothly transition to new learning standards for students, called Common Core. She also slammed the Governor for not attending the summit and for rumors of an executive order addressing the state’s education policy issues:

“An executive order, after a state board meeting, two days later...I think it’s embarrassing for him that he’s disrespecting the statutory responsibility of this board.”

Shanahan, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of the year, says she believes the state’s education system is in crisis, but Board Chairman Gary Chartrand disagrees with that assessment. So does new state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, though she did acknowledge problems at a state board meeting Tuesday:

“I don’t see us in crisis, but I see us in a time of urgency. I see us in a time where it’s important that we take into consideration some of the important issues we are facing right now in education in Florida," she says.

One of the most pressing decisions the state has to address soon is whether to keep or scrap new tests aligned with Common Core. The tests, called PARCC, are set to go into effect in 2015. But several groups, including key lawmakers, have voiced opposition to the assessment. Stewart says the Florida Department of Education hasn’t reached a decision on the tests, but says any choice has to weigh a few issues:

“How do we compare with other states throughout the nation and that’s going to be important as we move forward. We need to make sure whatever assessment we choose can be used to evaluate our students our teachers and schools, and how can it fit into our accountability system?”  

The PARCC assessments are designed to do exactly that. But Stewart says a decision on PARCC has to be made by next March. The board as a whole reiterated its support for the standards, even as a push against the Common Core boils up from groups on both the left and the right. At least one bill has been filed to repeal Common Core, but few think it will get very far in the Florida legislature.