Conversations have been occurring around the state about the improved standards for education in Florida following the Department of Education’s series of public forums. There has been a lot of talk about what the new standards are, but not about what they aren’t.
A common misconception is that the Common Core State Standards were created by the federal government as a means to nationalize education. That’s simply not true. The standards, in fact, were developed by subject matter experts and teachers, many of them from Florida. Adoption of the standards is left up to individual states and Florida is just one of 44 other states that has decided to use them.
The State Board of Education, along with many other education officials, educators and community members, desired a set of standards (that aligned with those of other states and nations) so that Florida can be sure its students are measuring up. Until now, Florida has had its own standards that made it impossible to see how our 4th graders were performing compared to the 4th graders in Georgia, much less those from London or Japan.
The reality is that Florida students are competing with their peers in other U.S. states and in other nations around the globe. Now they are competing for knowledge, but soon, they’ll be competing for admission to the best higher learning institutions and for the highest-paying, most-desirable jobs. For Florida students to not fall behind in this international race for success, we must raise the standards for our students.
The new higher standards will change the form of test taking — instead of students answering multiple choice questions, they will have to explain how they arrived at their conclusion. By requiring students to think critically and illustrate their comprehension skills, these higher Florida standards ensure the state education system is effectively preparing students for success out of the classroom.
Perhaps the biggest error in debating the standards is that they do not dictate a classroom curriculum. While Florida students will be required to reach the same benchmarks as students in North Carolina, Colorado, and Ohio, it’s up to our school districts and teachers to get them there. The standards don’t come with form lesson plans, or set reading lists. The textbooks, homework and whiteboard lessons will look entirely different in the classrooms across the state and nation because districts set the curriculum, but at the end of the year, all of the students should share the same knowledge.
Common Core says what students should learn. School districts and teachers determine how they learn it, just as the current standards allow now.
The Common Core State Standards are designed so that classroom curricula are controlled at the local level. Parents who are worried about which textbooks are being used and which novels students are required to read should take their concerns to the local school board, just as they should now.
Most of the concerns being raised about Common Core are simply not based in fact. The truth is, the improved standards raise the bar for Florida students. They require students to master fewer concepts than the previous standards, but the new Florida standards are more rigorous because they expect students to understand concepts at a deeper level.
Education reform is an ever-evolving movement, as we must continually evaluate student performance and preparedness. The Common Core State Standards are a continuation of the reforms that began in Florida in the 1990s, making our state a leader in education policy. To continue and improve upon our success, implementation of higher standards is essential.
Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, and serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Florida Education Foundation.