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Should Revised Education Standards Still Be Called Common Core?

Florida education officials are preparing to make a series of changes to the state’s English and math requirements, but you won’t hear any of Florida’s top education officials using the name “Common Core” to describe the state’s learning standards for public school students.

What's In A Name?

“There are more standards than just mathematics and English-Language arts, which we’ve been discussing for the past couple months," said Joe Follick, spokesman for the Florida Department of Education.

“There are science standards, history standards, physical education standards and all sorts of other subject areas. I think it’s important we stop trying to call a subset of them one thing and that we call all of Florida’s standards, the Florida Standards, and I think that’s what you’re going to be seeing in the next couple of months.”   

The revisions come nearly three years after Florida and more than 40 other states adopted those same standards, called Common Core. But the changes proposed to those standards, and Florida’s efforts to distance itself from the name, may not be enough to placate critics.

The state department of education began pulling away from the words “Common Core” last year, right as a groundswell of opposition to the standards began building up in Florida. The center of the argument against the Common Core English and math standards is that states were allegedly coerced into accepting them by the federal government. Critics say the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” education reform program and the millions in federal money it dangled in front of states acted as a form of coercion, and critics say that’s evidence of federal intrusion into education. Defenders of Common Core say states voluntarily adopted the standards, and point out they were developed by the states—not the federal government.

Florida’s elementary schoolers are already learning under the new standards, and they’re in place in various degree throughout most grades. After a series of town hall meetings and months of gathering feedback on the standards, Florida education officials unveiled a series of changes.

Florida Department of Education deputy chancellor Mary Jane Tapin discussed the list of changes during a conference call. Among them—adding calculus back into the math standards for high schoolers, placing greater emphasis on trigonometry, and helping elementary schoolers understand money. Cursive writing has been included as well. Most of the other changes have been largely cosmetic -- something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Common Core critics,

 “If it came down to where we would have to rewrite all the standards, is there enough educated people in the state to be able to rewrite all these standards so we can break copyright?" said parent Julie Corbell during the conference call. "Because I know our state took $700 million in Race to the Top Money, and this is copywritten. And if we wanted to break from the federal government, are there the talented people in our state to be able to redo this in order to call them truly our own?"   

Does changing the standards mean they should still bear the Common Core name?

Common Core allows states to add up to 15 percentof their own metrics to the standards. The name has also been copyrighted. The Florida Department of Education says it’s not bound to keep the standards as they were initially written. And Chad Colby, spokesman for the group Achieve Inc. which helped create the standards along with the National Governor’s Association, agrees:

“The copyright was established to protect the standards from misuse from private entities, not from the states and not from public entities," he said.

Common Core opponents have claimed the copyright means states are stuck with the standards. But Colby says states can also make changes to them. Still, he says, too many changes could defeat the purpose of having a uniform set of educational requirements.

In addition to dropping the term “Common Core” the state is also steering itself away from the system’s associated tests, called PARCC. Those English and math tests were supposed to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Exam, or FCAT, in those subjects. But PARCC couldn’t bid for the state testing contract because it receives funding from the federal government. State education commissioner Pam Stewart says Florida’s replacement tests will come from a different source, but Colby believes there is still hope for PARCC in Florida. He points to Michigan, which also solicited tests from other venders, but stuck with the existing Common Core tests.

“They had a list of criteria and they found that many of the things they were looking for could only be found in the consortium assessments—either Smarter Balanced or PARCC”.   

Stewart says Florida – which currently has no standardized tests – will again have some in the next few months. Meanwhile, the Florida Board of Education is set to take up the proposed changes to the English and math Common Core standards at its Tuesday meeting.

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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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