Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Abandoning Common Core standards is immoral

Someone in the crowd shouted, “Shame on you! Shame on you,” as the disgruntled red shirts filed out of the Lee County School Board meeting, their six-day revolt against state mandated testing thwarted by a sobering reality.

The school board decided Tuesday to reconsider a 3-2 vote taken the week before to abandon the Florida Standards Assessment tests. The board majority had termed their action “opting out” of the testing regime, but “insurgency” would have been more accurate. The vote made national news amid a wave of unease, anger and confusion as states and school districts wrestle with revamped requirements to test kids against national achievement standards, the so-called common core assessments.

Just the week before, a district court judge in Louisiana had slapped down Gov. Bobby Jindal’s attempt to use an executive order to override the state school board and halt common core testing. Jindal, a very ambitious politician, had originally been a common core supporter, but when popular opinion turned, so did the governor.

Unlike Jindal’s political theatrics, however, the Lee County School Board’s rejection of common core standards potentially could have led to the loss of $280 million in state and federal funds for the county’s schools, and seniors could have been denied their high school diplomas.

So on Tuesday, one of the Lee board’s three common core dissenters faced down the angry anti-testing crowd, decked out in red t-shirts, and changed her vote. The Lee County re-set might dampen a similar rebellion against state-mandated testing that has been simmering in Palm Beach County. “Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward,” Palm Beach School Board member Karen Brill had warned last week, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Certainly, public opinion has swung, and it has swung hard against high stakes testing. A Gallup Poll released Aug. 20 found that 59 percent of Americans oppose common core testing, while just 33 percent supported the assessments.

But the opposition is composed of very disparate factions. Tea party activists think common core testing is just another federal power grab. But another faction is made up of parents who are worried that their kids have been beaten down by so many high-stakes tests. My colleague, Christina Veiga, found that the Miami-Dade School District stages 18 examinations required by the state Department of Education, two by the federal government and five by the district. Another 21 high-stakes tests await for kids seeking college admission or credit for advanced placement courses.

This year, the state demands that each school district devise an end-of-course test for every subject taught in every grade, from kindergarten up, from dance to music to phys ed. “Insanity,” Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho termed that massive, unfunded mandate at Wednesday’s board meeting.

But Carvalho has no patience with the “disconnected, misinformed or politically influenced” rabble, or “irresponsible” school boards who would abandon core standards assessments. “Quite frankly,” he said, “it would be immoral for anyone to try to transport us back to that time when we only cared how certain children learned.”