Goodbye, Common Core education standards! Florida will now be B.E.S.T.: Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. Some have speculated that the new name was an attempt to curry favor with the current denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue whose wife has promoted ‘Be Best,’ as her first lady’s cause.
Those with more than short memories recall the time when the previous governor, Rick Scott, also rid the state of that turbulent priest (a/k/a known as the meddlesome or troublesome priest.)
Under his direction, the current commissioner Pam Stewart and the state board of education rebranded the Common Core as the Florida Standards. Common Core was scrubbed from the state’s schools, although those who took a closer look saw that besides the new name, all that changed were a few edits, additions of explanatory comments, and the requirement that fourth-grade students would learn cursive writing.
The Common Core is dead! Long live the Common Core!
Yes, the Common Core lived in Florida, except it had a new name as it had also morphed in other states in a real-world example of ‘la plus ca change, la plus que les meme chose.’
It would seem that the previous effort to rid Florida of the Common Core was a sop to alleviate the angst of Florida voters. It was a popular move; conservatives hated the Core because the Obama administration had forced it onto states as part of the Race to the Top grant program, liberals because it continued the damage educational reform was inflicting on schools.
The latest attempt, begun by Governor DeSantis and carried on by his partner-in-reform, Commissioner Richard Corcoran, came as a response to parents who complained during the 2018 election campaign that they couldn’t help their children with homework.
To be fair, the Commissioner oversaw an attempt by the Department of Education to solicit input from parents, educators, and others as to what revisions should be made to the standards. At the end, Florida ended up with the Be BEST standards.
Now let us examine what really has taken place. Is the Common Core really gone? Is it washed out of our hair?
Wait, we’re rushing too far ahead. We need to ask what is the Common Core?
It didn’t spring out of the ground as some new species unrelated to what went before. The Common Core found a way to meld existing state standards, in fifty different versions plus the District of Columbia and territories, into one set that all would use.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) remembers a few years ago when a Florida official crowed to him that two-thirds of the Common Core math standards were exactly the same as Florida’s then existing Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
Then there were the complaints that some states such as Massachusetts gave up a superior set of state standards in order to fall in with the common lot.
Never forget that the Common Core was adopted ten years ago in a rush by states to please the U.S. Department of Education in order to qualify for funding that was desperately needed in the days of the Great Recession.
What was different about the actual standards?
In math (GOT is a math guy), the Common Core deliberately made vertical articulation a feature. That meant that each succeeding grade level would build upon the learning of the previous grade level. For example, 6th grade math would teach ratios, 7th grade would teach proportions (when ratios are equal) and thus direct variation (when one number differs from another by multiplication, but as algebra: y = 2x), and 8th grade would teach linear equations (taking that 2x and making it 2x + 4, for example.)
Common Core pushed down content from higher levels to lower levels. After it came in, GOT began explaining the change to parents by telling them that Algebra 1 is now Algebra 1.75 given all the Algebra 2 content pushed into Algebra 1.
That came about because the writers of Common Core decided what they believed children should know when matriculating (entering) college and worked backwards. That is why we have children in kindergarten doing math worksheets instead of enjoying recess.
The high school standards were written as bodies of knowledge, not a discrete piece of content to be taught. Common Core declared that any given high school math lesson, focused on a particular concept, might include three to six standards from these bodies of knowledge. This is a distinction lost on most people, including GOT’s superintendent who decreed at the beginning of the year that every standard be written on the whiteboard, word for word, that each day’s lesson was about. Um, no, the high school standards don’t lend themselves to a one-by-one presentation.
In ELA (English Language Arts), the Common Core changed the curriculum (despite the many denials that Common Core did not specify curriculum) to a denigration of fiction and story in order to promote a focus on nonfiction, informational, and technical text.
Even more, reading whole works was deemed useless. The Common Core focused on excerpts from several sources, evaluating them, and coming to some sort of conclusion.
And in the Common Core tests, we find oral sources that necessitate students to listen to audio via earbuds plugged into computers as one of the sources to be evaluated.
Lastly, it wasn’t new to the Core, but the Core’s ‘reading’ test, like previous ‘reading’ tests, actually have been tests of thinking skills.
Has anything changed? Or is it wash, rinse, and repeat?
By and large, the vertical articulation remains. But that is not a bad thing. A few standards shifted, but overall, the push down of standards to ages where they are developmentally inappropriate remain. That part of the Core remains. If we use a popular motif, thumbs down on this one.
In fact, Florida is doubling down on the developmental inappropriateness as it seeks to write standards for pre-K, that is, three and four year olds, and then test them. Read far enough in the link if you need evidence that Florida intends to test pre-K children and then VAM-rate their teachers by the results. Thumbs down.
The high school standards remain written as bodies of knowledge. Thumbs down.
The developmental inappropriateness of the standards for each age level remain. Florida did not rebuild its standards from the bottom up, that is, it did not ask what each age level should be able to learn and do. Thumbs down.
The language is much clearer and far more easily understandable when read as to what is actually expected. Thumbs up.
Even so, the state will have to revise its test writing manuals so people will know exactly what the standards mean. Thumbs down.
ELA now comes with lists of books for reading. Thumbs up.
The lists are not inclusive enough. The focus on the classics means a focus on European/Greek and Roman classical writers. Thumbs down.
Beyond the standards, there is the testing. Because what is tested is what gets taught. GOT is changing his motto to that line.
Florida plans to add two tests and delete two tests. High school students will have to take a Civics Literacy test and undergo the SAT or ACT regardless of whether they plan to go to college. The Geometry End-of-Course exam and the 9th grade reading test will be eliminated.
And therein lies the rub. The SAT and the ACT are based on the Common Core. What gets tested is what gets taught. GOT was talking to his Geometry colleagues this week and they were looking forward to the end of testing. No more EOC; no more district interim testing.
GOT laughed. Florida plans to revise its grading formulas to judge high schools on how well their students perform on the SAT or ACT (Common Core-based, don’t forget that.)
As long as schools are graded upon the results from Common Core-based tests, we will be teaching Common Core in the schools and continuing to put students through unending practice <cough, cough> GOT meant progress monitoring tests to predict what the results will be.
We will continue to be judged on the Common Core. It’s not gone, that wasn’t shampoo Governor DeSantis gave us, but some kind of sludge that makes us feel foul as he smiles for the cameras and tells parents that his superhero power is fixing education.