TALLAHASSEE After a summer of polarizing public debate, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday ordered the state education department to withdraw from a national consortium creating tests around the new Common Core State Standards.
Scott was facing mounting pressure from Tea Party groups to both jettison the national standards and pull out of a multi-state consortium developing exams that will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests in 2014-15.
His decision represents something of a compromise.
The governor did not dismiss the benchmarks, which are already being taught in schools statewide. But he signed an executive order ending Floridas relationship with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and raising Tea Party-inspired concerns about federal overreach.
Unfortunately, PARCC has become a primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government into many of these state and local decisions, Scott wrote in a follow-up letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The federal government, however, has no constitutional authority to involve itself in the state-level decisions on academic standards and assessments.
Scott also penned a three-page letter to State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand, recommending a six-point action plan for pursuing higher standards in education. Among the suggestions, Scott asked the education board to hold at least three public meetings on the Common Core to identify any opportunity to strengthen or risks for federal intrusion in Floridas standards.
The response from education leaders across the state was divided.
Patricia Levesque, a Common Core supporter and executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bushs Foundation for Floridas Future, said she was encouraged by Scotts continued commitment to the thoughtful implementation of Floridas Common Core standards.
Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning said Scott had sent mixed messages.
Why have public hearings unless youre open to changing things? Browning said. That would send a signal to me that the state is open to changing things.
Either way, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho urged state leaders to move cautiously and allow for a transition period.
What we cannot lose sight of is the necessity for high standards and respectful accountability systems that position our children well in light of the new emerging economy, he said.
The Common Core State Standards outline what students across the country should know at each grade level, but do not include reading lists or suggested lesson plans. They have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
In Florida, the standards and accompanying tests have become a political flash point. Supporters say the new benchmarks emphasize critical thinking and analytical skills. Opponents take issue with the federal government making decisions about standards and assessments, arguing that education decisions should be left to state and local governments.
Republican leaders in the state Senate and House have held firm in their commitment to the standards. But they were among the first to call for Floridas withdrawal from PARCC.
On Monday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Scotts decision had struck the perfect balance between states rights and states responsibilities.