Thursday, March 5, 2015

"A major victory in the effort to reverse ... Common Core!" (Part 1)

Updated: 3/7/15, 1:35 PM

Last week, the Florida Citizens Alliance triumphantly announced “a major victory in the effort to reverse course on the implementation of Common Core (aka ”The Florida Sunshine State Standards“) and return control of education to local school boards!”

They were referring to the filing of what they call the “Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment Act” as bills in the Florida Senate (SB1496) and House (HB1121).

In this post, I’ll explain what SB1496 would do, put the bill in a broader national perspective, and point out the local efforts to support it. In Part 2, I’ll give you my take on what’s at stake and suggest some next steps.

What SB1496 would do

Under the unassuming bill title “Assessments and Accountability,” the bill provides this summary:
  • Deletes Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and requires districts to select certain standards;
  • Requires Commissioner of Education to develop and maintain proposed list of certain standards;
  • Provides standards that must be included on list;
  • Requires district school boards to select and implement set of standards from among those on list;
  • Prohibits the state Department of Education or district school board from entering into certain agreements that cede or limit state or district autonomy over academic content standards and corresponding assessments;
  • Requires the state Department of Education or district school board to amend or terminate certain agreements;
  • Revises required public K–12 educational instruction;
  • Revises assessment program;
  • Removes statewide, standardized assessments;
  • Provides for scheduling, administration, analysis, and reporting of specific assessments;
  • Revises school grades.
I’ll highlight just some of the specifics; you can read the entire 41-page bill here.

The bill removes the Sunshine State Standards

The first thing the bill does is get rid of Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards which under current law include English Language Arts, mathematics, science, social studies, visual and performing arts, physical education, health, and foreign languages. Bill proponents conflate the Sunshine State Standards with Common Core; in their jargon, the bill would “stop Common Core.”

Instead, it would have the State Commissioner of Education, a gubernatorial appointee, “develop and maintain a list of English Language Arts and mathematics standards from the best available standards in place before January 1, 2009.”

Rather than having state-wide standards as we do today, each district school board would choose standards from the Commissioner of Education’s list “after a broad, transparent discussion and comment period with parents, teachers, and other stakeholders.”

You can see the similarity between this proposal and the textbook selection process required by last year’s SB864 that I wrote about here.

All references to standards for science, visual and performing arts, physical education and foreign language in the current law are gone, leaving it to the local school districts whether those subjects are to be taught.

The bill addresses concerns about data collection

Public speakers at our local School Board meetings have expressed concern about what they call “data mining” on several occasions. SB1496 requires that “before student data may be used for education research, parental consent must be given and the student data must be anonymized, de- identified, and aggregated.”

The bill changes state-mandated testing

SB1496 strikes the current requirement that student assessment programs “identify the educational strengths and needs of students and the readiness of students to be promoted to the next grade level or to graduate from high school.”

It also strikes the current requirement to participate in national and international education comparisons such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

And rather than the statewide standardized assessment program we have now, the Commissioner of Education would “develop and maintain a list of pre–2009, national norm-referenced assessments” from which each district school board would choose.

The bill changes sex education to opt-in from the current opt-out

Buried in the bill is the requirement that “A parent must give written consent for his or her child to participate in the teaching of … reproductive methods.” It strikes language in the current law that says “Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of … reproductive health.”

There’s more, but I think you get the drift.

The national perspective

An October 2013 “Special Report on Education” by The Heritage Foundation titled “Common Core National Standards and Tests: Empty Promises and Increased Federal Overreach Into Education” said:
Federal intervention in education has been enormous under the Obama Administration, and has been coupled with a gross disregard for the normal legislative process. And today, Americans face the next massive effort to further centralize education: the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The battle over national standards and tests is ultimately a battle over who controls the content taught in every local public school in America. Something as important as the education of America’s children should not be subjected to centralization or the whims of Washington bureaucrats. What is taught in America’s classrooms should be informed by parents, by principals, by teachers, and by the business community, which can provide input about the skills students need to be competitive when they leave high school.
Setting up the very legislative changes we’ve seen in Florida in the past few years and that I expect we’ll see more of in the current Legislative session, The Heritage Foundation said:
Choice in education through vouchers, education savings accounts, online learning, tuition tax credit options, homeschooling—all of these options are changing how education is delivered to students, matching options to student learning needs. It’s the type of customization that has been absent from our education system. Choice and customization are critical components necessary to improve education in America. Imposing uniformity on the system through national standards and tests and further centralizing decision-making will only perpetuate the status quo.
And explaining what we’re seeing today, it concluded:
The good news is, citizens and leaders in a number of states are fighting to regain control over standards and curriculum, defending against a nationalization of education. Ultimately, we should work to ensure that decisions are made by those closest to the student: teachers, principals, and parents.
The Heritage Foundation, according to its website, “is a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” According to The Center for Media and Democracy, it has received funding from organizations with connections to the Koch brothers who, “as two of the richest people in the world, … are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN).”

Local support

In 2013, the Libertarian Party of Collier County passed an anti-Common Core resolution that referenced the 2012 Libertarian Party platform and condemned the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Florida. It called for “a free market education system that empowers parents and guardians, who are best situated to decide what is in their own children’s best interests, to freely decide how to educate their children through the use of all measures that enhance the educational choices available, including charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for private school tuition, and home schooling.”

SWFL Citizens’ Alliance was formed in 2013. Its core initiatives are to “Stop Common Core” and “Protect Your Right to Keep & Bear Arms.”

And another local group active in this movement, Parents Rights of Choice for Kids (aka ParentsROCK), was started in 2013 by School Board member Erika Donalds to “support and advocate for parents’ rights and parent choice” and to “influence policies and legislation to protect you and your children.”

In recent appearances before the the Marco Island City Council, Collier County Commission and Collier County School Board, representatives of the Libertarian Party of Collier County and the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance have spoken against Common Core, and representatives of Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance has spoken in support of the “Florida Education Empowerment Act.” The Collier Board of County Commissioners last week voted 3–2 to adopt an “Education Sovereignty Resolution” initially put forward by the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County. (See my pre-meeting blog post here.)

In conclusion

I hope you have a clear sense of what the Florida Citizens Alliance was lauding when it declared a “major victory in the effort to reverse course on the implementation of Common Core…and return control of education to local school boards.” I hope you see that this is part of a nationwide effort supported and funded by sophisticated national groups, and that you know the names of some of the local organizations that are carrying out those national groups’ bidding.

In Part 2, I’ll tell you what I think is at stake, and suggest some next steps.

Note: This post was revised on March 7, 2015. The Libertarian Party of Collier County has not endorsed the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment bill. The post as previously published said they did. Also, the“Education Sovereignty Resolution” was initially put forward by the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County, not by the LPCC Chairman.



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