South Florida schools

Critics at forum blast controversial new school standards as ‘Communist Core’

Back in 2010, when Florida joined most other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards, the public was largely tuned out — Florida received feedback from only about 400 people during that entire drawn-out approval process.

But with Common Core now a hot-button political issue, Floridians are getting much more involved. More than 400 people have attended Common Core town halls in the past two days alone.

Those public forums, called by Gov. Rick Scott, began in Tampa on Tuesday and moved to South Florida — at Broward College’s Davie campus — on Wednesday. The trio of meetings concludes in Tallahassee on Thursday.

Broward’s passion-filled event at times featured boos or applause. Though not everyone who showed up was opposed to Common Core, there were plenty of angry critics in the crowd.

Among their various complaints: that Common Core amounts to a de facto national curriculum; that standardized testing will increase, and that the new guidelines place unreasonable expectations upon the youngest of schoolchildren.

“We’re telling you we don’t want this, bottom line,” said David Knop, a parent of two children, ages 6 and 9, who lives in Pembroke Pines. “We want somebody to start listening to us.”

Defenders of the new standards, including Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, said the change will empower students — ensuring that they graduate high school with the knowledge needed for college or a career.

“Our students need to be able to think critically,” Runcie said. “They need to be able to look at information and be able to analyze it, develop solutions…those are the skills that we are pursuing.”

The Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, were developed by the National Governors Association with heavy support from the Gates Foundation. Though the Obama administration didn’t write the standards, it has strongly encouraged states — through the use of federal grant dollars — to adopt them.

That support from the president has only fueled the rage coming from Tea Party Republican groups, who have been among the most vocal critics of Common Core. During Wednesday’s town hall, the standards were blasted as “Obama Ed” or “Communist Core.”

Broward School Board member Katie Leach, herself a Republican, pushed back against that rhetoric, telling the crowd that “there is not a Common Core standard that includes the word ‘Marxism.’”

Throughout it all, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart listened to the speakers, promising to use their input to improve how the state administers Common Core. For now, despite the political controversy over Common Core, education officials appear focused on tweaking the new standards — not tossing them out altogether.

“All of those opinions are taken into consideration,” Stewart said. “We’ll use all of this as we move forward.”

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