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Scott's Education Executive Order Leaves Some Confused About What He Wants

Governor Rick Scott’s executive order distancing Florida from a set of nationally-adopted education standards has experts scrambling to figure out what it all means. While some are praising Scott for finally taking a stand on Common Core, others say his executive order amounts to politics, not policy.

In political parlance, Governor Rick Scott was for Common Core standards before he was seemingly, against them. The Common Core standards have been criticized by both the left and the right recently, but for different reasons. The left is worried about more standardized testing, while the right sees the standards, and their attached tests as federal overreach—a point emphasized by Governor Rick Scott himself:

“It was their entry point to intrusion and involvement in our system. I believe we should come up with a test that works for us. We want high standards but we don’t want their involvement," he told reporters earlier in the week.

But when asked repeatedly to provide examples of how a test developed by multiple states represents a federal overreach, Scott repeated himself:

"It’s the entry point where the federal government would be more involved in or education system and I oppose that. That’s what I talked to Secretary Duncan about and I will continue to oppose that.”  

But Abagail McIver, spokeswoman for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity Florida, is very clear about what she means, when she says the PARCC exams have been hijacked by the federal government. She points to the acceptance of $180 million in federal money used to develop the exams.

“If we take that money, then we have to abide by their rules," she said.

McIver also points to a bulletin on the U.S. Department of Education’s website which outlines a review process for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, the multi-state group developing the exams. The consortium used federal money to create the tests. But new rules from the federal government in April are what really sets McIver and other critics off:

“They announced they had created a 7-person technical review panel, that is going to be reviewing all of the assessments and the curriculum that the testing consortia are establishing...and they can do that because they’ve given those testing consortia more than $360 million.'"

But even though the PARCC consortium and, to a smaller extent, the Common Core standards, have come up with some curriculum recommendations, states do not have to abide by them. Under Scott’s executive order, Florida will relinquish its position as treasurer for the group. But the Governor stopped short of asking Florida be withdrawn from PARCC altogether. He also did not ask the state to abandon the PARCC exams, which are set to replace most of the FCAT tests in the next two years.

“I talked about avenues, and keeping all avenues open. PARCC was one of those, and still is on the table as one of those, as would be a competitive bid and other state contracts," said Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who will have to carry out the Governor’s Executive Order.

It also calls on the Florida Department of Education to hold a series of public meetings on Common Core, which Stewart says she intends to do.

In addition to concerns over testing, several groups have also voiced problems with the standards themselves—most of that has to do with concerns the federal government will try to dictate curriculum—the stuff teachers teach in the classroom.

Those standards are already being taught to students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Next year, they’ll apply to all students. And some, like Florida State University political scientist Carol Weissert, view the governor’s executive order as largely symbolic:

“There are people, particularly Tea Party types, who are railing about the Core standards, and so this responds to that, but doesn’t really pull the state out of the group, but very symbolically takes a stand against the Core standards and blames the federal government.”  

Weissert says while she does not think Scott is ‘pandering’ to his base, she notes criticism of Common Core has ratcheted up in Florida in the last six months, and that Scott is paying attention:

“The governor was in favor of it. Things change, circumstances change, but I think we’re very close to entering into an election year and I think this is may be an issue that’s going to be very dear, not only to his base, but um...a lot of people have kids in school, a lot of people are concerned about education. It’s a salient issue, and what this tells me is that this will be a big issue in the campaign.” 

And, she thinks, Common Core could play a big role in next year’s gubernatorial race.

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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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