Young people would call it an “epic fail.”
The state Board of Education threw school reform into further chaos recently when it voted not to require the state’s 67 school districts to use educational materials that were developed in a multistate partnership aimed at establishing national standards known as Common Core. Bowing to Johnny-come-lately opponents to Common Core, which Florida joined with 44 other states to develop over the past several years, Florida will now embark on an uncertain course to develop its own tests and standards, even as many of its districts could opt to employ Common Core materials and standards.
The BOE vote comes on the heels of an about-face last month by Gov. Rick Scott, who had backed Florida’s involvement in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Specious claims about maintaining the state’s educational independence fly in the face of a clear need to demonstrate Florida’s schools are producing college- and job-ready graduates. Creating a parallel set of tests and standards that somehow mirrors Common Core will put Florida behind the states that have resisted the tea party-fueled opposition to the reforms even as the BOE, Scott and the Legislature failed to implement its own reforms.
On the same day it was detaching itself from Common Core, which was to be applied next school year, the BOE extended its “safety net” put in place last year when districts across the state suffered dramatic drops in school grades, based in part on freshly stringent FCAT standards. The safety net prevents a school from dropping more than two grade levels through 2014-15. Nearly one in five schools in the state would have done so if the net weren’t in place last year.
The debacle is a prime example of the pitfalls of serial education reform mixed with finger-in-the-wind political meddling. Ironically, the meddling began when Florida voters amended the state Constitution to eliminate the education commissioner as an elected Cabinet position. The loss of independence — the governor now picks the commissioner and seven other members of the Board of Education — has produced a turnstile of education commissioners and political appointees whose allegience is split between the schools and students they are appointed to serve and the governor who appointed them. Current Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is the fourth person to hold the job in the past three years.
The politicization of the Board of Education was no more apparent than with the Common Core about-face. Right up until last month, the board and the Department of Education it oversees were working hand-in-hand with the independent nonprofit Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the federal Department of Education to create teaching materials, tests and universal standards. Now, for purely political purposes, it must appear to go back to the drawing board.
We suspect, though, that what will really happen is that the materials, tests and standards will be virtually identical to the ones produced by the partnership, with the offensive Common Core label erased to satisfy foes. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the state’s politics and the inability of our leaders to stand up to ill-informed bullies who carry such outsized influence relative to their number, stature and knowledge.