Common Core politics indeed makes strange bedfellows. Some of the most conservative tea party members are on the same side of the issue as some of the most liberal voters, although not really for the same reasons.
To put it simply, the Common Core movement is an attempt to implement a common set of educational standards in all 50 states so that all students are working toward the same educational goals and measured by the same assessments.
Many on the right view this as federal overreach and have been vocal in their opposition, even asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop Common Core in Florida. To date some 45 states have adopted the Common Core state standards, but two states have repealed their laws this year — Oklahoma and Indiana — due to public pressure.
Florida approved the benchmarks in 2010 with little dissent, but public opposition is getting louder. Complicating matters for Scott is the fact that Jeb Bush is a vocal supporter of Common Core and of rigorous standardized testing in general. Scott’s response to the public outcry was to make some changes to the standards and rebrand the “new” product as the Florida Standards. Opponents of Common Core were neither fooled nor impressed. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, was fine with the changes, as he recognized that the commitment to Common Core essentially remained intact.
On the right, many tea party members and conservative parents have been voicing their opposition to federal overreach in public education. Meanwhile, moderate Republicans support the standards, as do the vast majority in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. Interestingly, it wasn’t the federal government that initiated the development of these standards. It was a bipartisan group of governors that came up with the idea and developed the standards and assessments. It was not mandatory; states could choose not to participate.
Many Democrats, including their gubernatorial nominee, Charlie Crist, support a common set of education goals with other states. Some Democrats and professional educators have expressed concerns about the benchmarks stifling creativity and learning.
The real sticking point for many Democrats, educational professionals and concerned parents comes on the assessment side. Assessment is educational-speak for testing. And Florida already relies too heavily on standardized testing.
They believe testing serves a purpose in assessing where a student’s gains in learning are, but also believe that testing has become too high-stake. Too much is riding on the outcome of a test — school grades, teacher pay and promotion, and graduation, to name a few.
It’s reckless at best to continue to base student, teacher and school outcomes on a test that hasn’t been fully developed or tested. Opponents on both sides of the political spectrum have correctly called for a cautionary timeout on testing until the test can be evaluated and validated.
With little movement at the state level other than pacifying platitudes, concerned parents have taken to the school boards to voice their frustration and demands regarding the continuous expansion of testing over teaching.
It was not the federal government that bullied the school boards; it was the state of Florida. And it was not the federal bureaucrats who have been pushing for this “nationalized” approach. Rather, it’s the educational elite — those who start think tanks and foundations and associations to promote school choice.
The “paid to advocate” crowd that pushes the idea of parental choice as it pertains to vouchers and charter schools is also the crowd pushing for more and more standardized testing in public schools.
Their advocacy for their “parents know best what’s right for their children” mantra applies to school choice, but is fiercely challenged when it comes to standardized testing.
If Florida doesn’t have the backbone to address the madness of too much high-stakes testing, it should allow local school boards to make the decision without bullying them or threatening their resources.
Here’s another idea: Allow parents to opt their children out. After all, parents know best.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.