TALLAHASSEE -- The new Common Core State Standards are more than just a roadmap for teachers and students.
They’re a political football causing a rift among Republicans.
In Florida, conservative moms and tea party groups have mounted fierce opposition to the national standards, saying decisions about teaching and learning should be made by state governments and local school boards — not the federal government. Their efforts attracted significant attention this summer, thanks to well-attended rallies, social media blitzes and the support of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Our parents are reaching out to every [state] legislator they know and urging them to hit the pause button on Common Core,” said Laura Zorc, a Vero Beach mother and cofounder of Florida Parents Against Common Core.
Few observers believe the pressure will make the Florida Legislature or the Board of Education reverse course on the standards, which kick in across all grade levels when school starts on Monday. The benchmarks still have broad support among Republican lawmakers, and a tireless champion in former Gov. Jeb Bush.
But the backlash could be enough to prompt Florida’s exit from a national consortium creating the tests to accompany the new standards. Some observers, such as Frederick Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, say the standards would be virtually meaningless without a common measuring stick.
“If there is a disconnect between the standards and the assessments, we end up worse than where we began,” Hess said, noting that there would be no way to compare student performance in Florida to performance in other states.
The Common Core standards outline what is expected of students at each grade level, but do not include suggestions for books or how teachers should plan their lessons. The benchmarks were created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, and have been approved in 45 states and in the District of Columbia.
The political fireworks are not unique to Florida. The debate in Indiana got so heated that lawmakers voted to put the brakes on the standards earlier this year. Michigan and Wisconsin are also grappling with similar proposals.
A TIDAL WAVE OF CRITICISM
“In many states, implementation is already well under way, but there is this firestorm,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.
That wasn’t always the case. When the initiative launched in 2009, lawmakers from both parties, teachers’ unions, parent groups and business associations supported it. They made the argument that national standards would raise the bar for students across the country, and enable educators to compare student performance across state lines.
But fractures began forming this year, when the Obama administration ramped up its efforts to promote the new benchmarks.
The teachers’ unions expressed concerns over how educators would be evaluated during the roll out, and whether they would be adequately prepared. Critics on the right, meanwhile, identified the Common Core as an example of federal overreach, and made comparisons to Obamacare. They also took issue with federal money being tied to the standards.
Other concerns surfaced about the quality of the standards themselves, and how student data would be collected, distributed and protected.