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Supporters, Opponents Of Florida’s Common Education Standards Have Their Say In Tampa

John O'Connor
StateImpact Florida

Lory Baxley said she drove two hours to discuss her complaints about Common Core standards after checking out her son’s math assignments.

Baxley’s son earned top scores on the FCAT, but now he’s worried if he’ll pass fourth grade. She blamed Common Core.

“About four weeks into the first grading period I noticed a difference in my fourth grader and a difference in his coursework,” Baxley told more than 200 people at Hillsborough Community College. “The math was hodgepodge – no sequence. My son had everything from a line graph to an algebraic problem, as well as numerous different ways to multiply, all on the same homework sheet.”

Florida is one of 45 states to fully adopt the standards. They outline what students should know in math and English at the end of each grade. Kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms are using Common Core now. Other grades are using a blend of Common Core and Florida’s previous standards. Next year, every grade is scheduled to exclusively use Common Core.

Common Core has broad support among educators, but is also facing a rising number of critics.

They say the standards aren’t as good as Florida’s current standards, will require the state to give up local control, and require too much testing among other concerns.

Those criticisms convinced Gov. Rick Scott to request the three public meetings this week, the first of which was in Tampa.

Hillsborough County high school reading coach Jennifer Canady disagrees with the critics. She likes that Common Core challenges her lowest-performing students with literature.

“The best part of it was at the end they said to me “Mrs. Canady, this was fun,” she said of an assignment. “Because for the first time they were really able to access complex text.”

The hearings are supposed to focus on specific standards in order to suggest improvements. But, mostly, the hearing was a series of testimonials about the standards.

Lory Reddel is also a reading coach who supports Common Core – but the standards debate hits home for her.

“As a parent this is a heart-felt perspective. I had a struggling reader,” Baxley said, briefly overcome by the emotion of the story. “But in our district because we started the implementation of the Common Core expectations, she comes home eager to read. It’s the Common Core standards that have changed that perspective and changed the life of my child. So I just want (you) to know I’m pro-Common Core.”

Tina Neace believed the standards have an ideological bent she can’t support.

“As a mom, I am most concerned about being able to help my children reach their very best potential,” she said. “But I am concerned that this Common Core does the very opposite. It is a political agenda, not an educational standard.”

At times the discussion veered into arguing with straw men, tangents and falsehoods. Speakers often conflated other education policies with Common Core. Some just used their four minutes to rail against a decade’s worth of testing and grading schools.

For a brief moment, Common Core critic Cindy Skarda challenged education commissioner Pam Stewart about the cost.

“Are there any cost analysis?” Skarda asked.

“I don’t think we’ve done a cost analysis,” Stewart responded.

“Oh really?” Skarda interrupted. “We don’t know what it’s going to cost but we’re going to implement it?”

“Would you like me answer?” Stewart shot back. “The standards were free for us to adopt.”

“For how long?” Skarda cut in again.

“Our standards don’t cost us anything to implement — or to have as standards,” Stewart said, noting the state already pays for teacher training, testing and new textbooks on a regular schedule. “I don’t believe that there’s an additional cost.”

Education officials will hold hearings in Davie Wednesday and Tallahassee Thursday.

They say they plan to gather speaker thoughts and more than five thousand comments submitted online and recommend adjustments to State Board of Education in the next month or two.

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