Gov. Scott makes changes to Common Core plan


Florida Gov. Rick Scott, shown in this Monday, June 10, 2013 file photo, is calling for public hearings and possible changes to the Common Core State Standards.

AP
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott — caught in a crossfire over the future of Florida's public schools — is trying to respond to critics of new education standards slated to go into effect next year.

Instead of rejecting — or wholly endorsing the standards as former Gov. Jeb Bush has — Scott on Monday called for public hearings and possible changes to the Common Core State Standards.

The Republican governor also said the state will pull out of a national test for school children to see if they are reaching standards in certain subjects.

Scott, in an executive order and letters to top state education officials, said he remains in favor of the "highest academic standards," but wants to make sure there isn't any "federal intrusion" into education policy.

That has been a constant refrain of Common Core critics, many of whom are Republican Party activists. Common Core supporters say that is a mischaracterization of how the standards were developed and will be used.

"What Floridians need to know is not our leaders are ‘for Common Core' or ‘against Common Core,' " Scott wrote in a letter to State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.

He added that as governor, "I support Florida's high academic standards and strongly reject overreach into those standards and other areas of our education system by the federal government."

The Republican governor also on Monday wrote U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and told him that Florida would pull out of the national testing consortium developing high-stakes tests that would measure the new standards.

In Alachua County, school officials say this change shouldn't throw any wrenches into this year's plan, although the state needs to move quickly in forming a new plan.

"It seems to be changing daily," said Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instructional services and student support for Alachua County Schools.

Clarke pointed out that while the national consortium's tests were supposed to be used starting with the 2014-2015 school year, students will still take FCAT 2.0 this year, so "there's still some time."

However, she said, there's now less than one year to find a new test, train teachers on how to approach that test in their curricula and communicate expectations to students and parents.

"If the state is going to do that, it has to be done in a timely fashion," Clarke said. "They're going to have to move quickly, but obviously you want to make sure that it's going to be done correctly."

Scott called on Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and the State Board of Education to issue a bid to determine what tests should be used to replace the current test, known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Scott is taking these steps amid a growing rift in his own party about education policy. His moves also come just one day after former Gov. Charlie Crist — a likely challenger to Scott — wrote a critical opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times about Scott's handling of education and said he was capitulating to tea party members.

"This is a nonsensical reason to reject them," Crist wrote. "Scott needs to stand with Florida students and no one else. This is not a time for rank partisanship."

Scott initially backed Common Core standards, which set uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math. But in recent weeks he refused to come out strongly in favor of Florida's transition to the new standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, as opposition has mounted among local Republican Party organizations.

The standards are a result of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Opponents see them as the nationalization of education policy and standards, something they say should be left to the states.

The new standards are backed by Bush, who helped create the state's current A-to-F grading system while in office from 1999 to 2007. It would be a huge defeat to Bush's potential presidential campaign if his own home state suddenly changed directions on education, an area where he is seen as a leader.

Bush has championed the standards as a way of raising expectations for students who may not be ready for college or careers.

The appointed board that oversees Florida's public schools has already adopted the new standards and the state is moving ahead to implement them. Elementary schools are already using the standards and the plan is to fully implement them during the 2014-15 school year.

But now Scott wants the board to hold public hearings and possibly revisit and alter the standards afterward.

During a conference call Monday, Stewart struggled to answer questions about how much the standards could be "tweaked" while maintaining their integrity.

Staff writer Erin Jester contributed to this report.

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