A sweeping executive order recently issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis aims to remove the “vestiges” of the politically unpopular Common Core standards that remain in the state’s taxpayer-funded school system.
Past polling suggests Americans nationwide are skeptical—and, in many cases, hostile—to Common Core, but the program, aimed at applying uniform standards for measuring academic progress across the country, remains in effect across most of the United States.
In 2014, at the request of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Board of Education changed some aspects of Common Core in the state but left what critics called “vestiges” of it in place. Among those remnants is a system of standardized testing that has received broad, bipartisan criticism from state lawmakers and teachers.
DeSantis, also a Republican, said one of the issues voters frequently asked him to deal with during his gubernatorial campaign was their aggravation with Common Core academic standards, particularly the program’s “confusing” mathematics requirements and its standardized testing regime.
“I’m here to say, when you complained about Common Core, I hear you. I told you I’d do something about it, and today we are acting to bring those promises into a reality,” DeSantis said at a Jan. 31 press conference.
The governor said an executive order would direct Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a critic of the program, to come up with recommendations to be presented to the state legislature next year.
Corcoran will develop ideas to “streamline some of the testing” and “identify ways to really make civics education a priority in Florida,” DeSantis said.
At the same presser, Corcoran lamented that Florida has been “stuck with Common Core,” which he said “needs to be scrutinized.”
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Florida Stop Common Core Coalition Executive Director Karen Effrem said her group supports the governor’s move.
“We’re thrilled and thankful that he’s willing to do this right out of the gate after being elected,” Effrem said.
“It isn’t common to have such a strong response to a campaign promise. We believe that his intention is sincere and look forward to helping him make real, substantive changes to the academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative Common Core in Florida.
“The greatest danger here is Gov. DeSantis being sabotaged by the corporate and political establishment around him.”
Common Core retains a strong foothold in state educational systems, and efforts at reforms have sometimes been shams, Effrem said.
“Originally, 45 states were part of Common Core. Four states—Arizona, Missouri, South Carolina, and Indiana—said they were pulling out, but really, they just rebranded. Even Jeb Bush said the [previous] Florida Common Core changes were ‘not substantial’ and Commissioner Corcoran acknowledged the rebrand,” she said.
When Jeb Bush was governor from 1999 to 2007, he was an ardent defender of the program, but in 2015, he acknowledged that it was unpopular. Although he continued to support the program, the phrase Common Core has become “poisonous politically,” he said.
The Common Core State Standards, as they are called, have long been criticized by parents who complain they dumb down educational standards and apply a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local needs and unwisely centralizes education decision-making in the federal government. They also say Common Core doesn’t properly prepare students for college.
Critics say the program’s standardized testing does not help students and that it imposes academically inferior standards that hobble students trying to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
They also complain about a move away from the use of textbooks to the use of technology that can’t be observed by parents interested in how their children are being educated.
But Common Core is championed by much of the national education establishment. The Common Core State Standards spell out what its architects believe kindergarten through Grade 12 students throughout the nation should know in English and mathematics upon completing each school grade.
Its proponents assert that Common Core was needed because American students’ academic progress has stagnated, and that the country has lost ground to other countries, particularly in subjects such as mathematics.
“One root cause has been an uneven patchwork of academic standards that vary from state to state and do not agree on what students should know and be able to do at each grade level,” says a website set up by Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices to promote the program.
Common Core created “a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy … to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live,” the site states. “Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the program. In 2014, the organization’s president, Tom Donohue, said Common Core was needed to combat the “severe educational and skills gap we face” as a country.
Restoring Civics Education
However, education analyst Ted Rebarber of AccountabilityWorks recently told Breitbart News that Common Core has been the “worst large-scale educational failure in 40 years”
“I hope Gov. DeSantis not only gets rid of Common Core, but also puts a lot of thought into what replaces it,” he said. “The heavy state regulation of local curriculum that preceded Common Core also didn’t work particularly well.”
Although teachers’ unions and Republicans generally don’t see eye-to-eye on much, the powerful Florida Education Association supports what DeSantis is doing.
FEA President Fedrick Ingram said his organization was “pleased to hear that the administration will look at streamlining testing.”
“Parents and our members cite time spent on testing—as versus on genuine teaching and learning—as one of their top concerns,” he said.
DeSantis detailed what will be done over the coming year.
In Executive Order 19-32, the governor has ordered Corcoran to “comprehensively review Florida’s Kindergarten through grade twelve academic standards and provide recommended revisions” by Jan. 1, 2020.
The order requires Corcoran to advise on the elimination of the program in Florida and a “return to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.” It also requires Corcoran to provide recommendations to “increase the quality of instructional curriculum” and to “suggest innovative ways to streamline testing.”
DeSantis’s order also laid the groundwork for the return of traditional civics education. It asks Corcoran to “identify opportunities to equip high school graduates with sufficient knowledge of America’s civics, particularly the principles reflected in the United States Constitution, so as to be capable of discharging the responsibilities associated with American citizenship.”