People Keep on Saying They’re Killing the Common Core. How Dead Is It?

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 27, 2020 4 min read
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Late last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced that he had fulfilled a campaign promise from 2018: He declared that the state had found a replacement for the Common Core State Standards. DeSantis pointed to the Florida Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (or B.E.S.T.) Standards that he said would replace the common core. He said that this overhaul of the state’s English/language arts and math standards would “remove all vestiges” of the common core from the state’s classrooms.

“I am pleased that this historic task has been completed and we are well on our way to making Florida the best state in the nation for education,” DeSantis said in a statement.

But in fact, the Florida Department of Education’s move deals with issues beyond strictly the standards.

Here’s some background: DeSantis ran for governor on the pledge that he would end the common core, which all but a handful of states adopted roughly a decade ago before it became a political pariah for liberals as well as conservatives. And very early in his tenure, DeSantis signed an executive order mandating an overhaul of the standards. The new B.E.S.T. standards will be revealed “before February,” according to the governor’s office.

Over the last several years, it’s been popular for politicians to announce that they’ve supposedly ended the standards without changing them very much. And it’s not even the first time Florida has announced revisions to the standards; see this story about a “repeal lite” strategy from all the way back in 2014.

So what will actually change in Florida?

Part of the answer is: We don’t know yet. As of Monday, the state department of education had yet to release a final version of the new standards. But it did release a summary of how the state had gone about dumping the common core into Biscayne Bay. Among the “steps taken,” the department says it has:

• “Renewed Florida’s focus on content-rich English Language Arts (ELA) standards by prioritizing the basic of reading and writing and promoting civil literacy.”

• “Added secondary grades (grades 6-12) foundations for literacy to provide targeted instruction for students who struggle in reading.”

• “Increased rigor by introducing rhetoric in 6th grade, giving students the opportunity to develop their reasoning, understanding of argumentative language, and writing skills.”

• “Increased mastery by focusing on foundational computational skills in the early grade levels before they enter middle school to reinforce the basics of arithmetic.”

• “Placed an elevated focus on memorizing math facts so students are not penalized for using the strategy that works best for them.”

In addition, the State Board of Education has approved a rule change that requires publishers to submit, with their textbook bids, a “No Common Core & Common Core Standards” Assurance.

Math Facts and Civics

It’s important to remember a few things.

The new Florida standards, and content standards in general, are supposed to be benchmarks, but how students get there depends largely on things like teacher strategies and curriculum. The standards themselves don’t prohibit teaching things like civics and rhetoric, so just because those areas get additional emphasis or get explicitly added to Florida’s standards doesn’t mean that the common core is somehow diminished or overturned. As it happens, while some have advertised how the common core can incorporate lessons about civics, others believe the standards diminished civics.

Related news: On Monday, DeSantis announced a new speech and debate initiative for Florida middle and high school students, the Miami Herald reported.

And while textbook publishers pay close attention to states’ standards, it’s not clear how exactly the state would guarantee or ensure that a textbook is “free” of the common core.

That bit about “memorizing math facts” might irritate common-core supporters because it could represent a substantive departure from the standards. In 2015, for example, Jo Boaler wrote that the common core would help schools move away from the idea that students who are better memorizers do really have more ability in math.

More broadly, until there’s a detailed crosswalk as to how certain common-core standards are altered or replaced, it’s not necessarily easy to declare the standards dead, alive, or somewhere in between in Florida.

Prior to this public shift away from the common core, Florida conducted a review of its standards to determine what it might want to change. As we pointed out in a story about DeSantis last year, some teachers made it clear that they didn’t really want a radical change to the standards.

States often review their standards every few years, so the process of revamping standards works in cycles.

DeSantis isn’t the only governor to make the common core a focus recently. In his State of the State address earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, declared to lawmakers, “Let’s dismantle the remnants of common core,” adding the state should also reduce standardized testing and give teachers a “well-deserved pay raise.”

The Florida department’s document outlining how it’s changing the common core deals with more than the standards. The department plans to require, for example, all high school students to take the Florida Civics Literacy Test; under Florida law, students entering the Florida state university system or state community college system must “demonstrate competency in civic literacy.”

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