Capital Report: Common Core's Replacement On Its Way, Florida Reading Proficiency Scores Slip

Nov 1, 2019

When he took office, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis set his sights on weeding out common core in K-12 education. Now, the governor says its replacement standards will be rolled out soon. In the meantime, ‘the Nation’s Report Card’ shows reading proficiency in the state has fallen in the past two years.

In the first weeks of this year, DeSantis tasked Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran with removing “all vestiges” of Common Core – a set of educational standards for math and English-Language Arts. Now, DeSantis says a replacement is on the way.

“Our common core replacement will be unveiled, probably by the end of the year – and look, parents, when they find out that they are actually going to be able to do the math with their kids without having to wonder, you know, why can’t they just do simple math? People appreciate that,” the governor told reporters this week.

Without getting very specific, DeSantis says he wants the standards to include a civics component:

“We’re looking at potentially having the high school seniors take the citizenship exam, or something similar to that, prior to graduation. I don’t know that we’d make it contingent on anything – but just do it and see where we’re at.”

DeSantis’ remarks on education were delivered at the Associated Press’ 2020 legislative preview event, where the governor said the upcoming legislative session needs to be “the year of the teacher.” He also used the event to defend a recent proposal to raise starting pay for teachers to $47,500.

But statewide teachers union the Florida Education Association has called for a $2.4 billion education investment in the coming budget. The group has questioned whether veteran classroom teachers would benefit from DeSantis’ proposed starting pay boost. In response, the governor suggested politics is at play.

"It’s just funny though, I mean look - let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved in this, I mean it’s just the fact of the matter - I’m a republican, they’re not. And so what I’m doing is never going to be enough, and my job is not to do what the union wants, it’s what I think is best for education and particularly for individual teachers,” DeSantis said, answering a reporter’s question about the FEA’s ask.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram says he’s ‘deeply disappointed’ to hear DeSantis “dismiss the voices of the 145,000 teachers and education staff represented” by the FEA. Ingram says advocating for increasing teacher pay is not a partisan issue. He is urging the governor and Department of Education to host a listening tour to hear from teachers and school staff.

Meanwhile, a nationwide progress report on proficiency in reading and math shows Florida’s fourth and eighth graders losing a step.

The National Assessment of Educational progress, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card, tests students nationwide every two years and ranks states in terms of progress in various subjects using its own 500-point scale.

This year, fourth graders dropped 3 points from 2017, and eighth graders 4 points in the same time frame – which the organization calls a significant change.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos places blame for lagging statistics nationwide on how money flows in public schools. She spoke at the NAEP results review in Washington, D.C.

“Over the past 30 years, per-pupil spending has skyrocketed. A massive increase in spending to buy flat lined achievement. It just doesn’t add up,” DeVos said. “So where does the money go? Here’s a dirty little secret: Highly-paid administrators, coordinators, consultants, assistant principals, assistant superintendents; layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy.”

A vocal proponent of school choice, DeVos went on to praise Florida's school choice landscape during the NAEP event.

"Students in Florida have more mechanisms for educational freedom than anywhere else in the country,” she said, citing voucher programs, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts the state has introduced.

DeVos had some words of praise for public education in the Sunshine State as well.

“Doing better also meant improved achievement in traditional public schools. Transparency for parents, accountability for schools, flexibility for school leaders, respect for teachers with rewards for great ones – and a strong focus on literacy for all students. And today, Florida students are doing better,” DeVos said.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says Florida’s results show an urgent need to raise expectations.

There are some bright spots to the numbers, though. The NAEP data shows narrowing achievement gaps across reading and math. In both subjects, black students in fourth grade narrowed the gap between their white counterparts.