With Appendices Vote, Florida Amends Involvement in Common Core

Florida’s state Board of Education has opted not to require school districts to use certain education materials crafted as part of Common Core, a new set of national education standards, amid growing political backlash from some conservative groups.

Matt Dixon of The Florida Times-Union writes that Common Core State Standards have been adopted in 45 states, including Florida, which are now in the process of being implemented. Because the standards were developed by a national consortium with involvement from the United States Department of Education, some conservative groups have hammered Common Core as federal overreach into state school systems — something they argue will reduce each state’s autonomy in controlling its own schools.

However, State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said that despite the Board’s opt-out from specific elements of Common Core, including writing samples and math class guidelines, local school systems would still have the option to use the documents, known collectively as the Common Core appendices.

“These are not becoming a required list of ancillary materials for districts to have to use,” she said.

The decision on the appendices was watched closely by Florida education officials and politicians, with a 5-1 vote to reject the appendices taken at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott.

Board members also voted to extend a school grade “safety net” through the 2014-15 school year. The measure will prevent school grades from dipping more than one letter in any given year during the transition to new standards and tests, which are considered more challenging.

Repeating her concerns that artificial grade inflation would undermine the validity of Florida’s education accountability system, board member Kathleen Shanahan cast the lone vote against the measure.

“Isn’t that sad that we are sitting here voting on something that is going to have no integrity?” she said.

Refusing to be backed into a corner by the question, Chairman Gary Chartrand replied to the question.

“It’s unfortunate, but I don’t see any way around it,” he said.

According to Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times, the Common Core has prompted an intense political battle in Florida, where Tea Party groups have likened the move to a federal takeover of the state education system. Scott responded to concerns last month by drafting a six-point plan to eliminate federal intrusion in state education policy — and not adopting the appendices was among his suggestions. Board members followed Scott’s advice Tuesday, except Shanahan who voted against the suggestion saying the appendices were already in use.

Still, the vote did little to quiet Common Core critics who attended the meeting.

“This is lipstick on a pig,” said Chris Quackenbush of the grass roots group Stop Common Core Florida. “We still have concerns. The standards are ambiguous gobbledygook. That needs to be addressed.”

Stewart said there could be additional revisions to the Common Core standards once the Education Department finishes soliciting feedback from parents, teachers, business leaders and other stakeholders. She also hinted that those changes might include a rebranding of the Common Core standards as the Florida standards, or something similar. That idea gave the chairman Gary Chartrand pause.

“ ‘Common Core State Standards’ is not a dirty word,” he said. “It’s something people understand. Let’s not back away from it.”