Florida Considers Allowing Districts to Write Own Standards, Though Testing Would Remain

Published March 7, 2018

Florida’s current Next Generation Sunshine State (NGSS) standards are based on the Common Core State Standards, which were developed at the national level and launched in 2009. Like most other states attempting to address citizen pushback against Common Core, Florida consented to a rewrite of the standards in 2013.

House Bill 825 and Senate Bill 966 would, according to the bills’ language, establish the NGSS standards as the “minimum baseline standards for core content of the curricula” and would allow each school district to write its own standards provided they are “equivalent to or more rigorous than the NGSS standards, or courses offered in the district for the International Baccalaureate program.”

The bills were introduced at the start of the legislative session in January. As of late February, neither bill had moved into committee.

Lifting the Bar

Karen Effrem, executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, says these bills could finally bring about positive reform to the state’s standards.

“There has been a long history by the pro-Common Core, Jeb Bush-controlled establishment of preventing real change to the standards in Florida,” Effrem said. “This bill is a way to improve on the [NGSS] standards by using them as a minimum baseline instead of a ceiling.”

Effrem says the legislation is an “interesting concept” by which states could satisfy the federal Department of Education by maintaining minimum state educational standards while allowing districts some flexibility, though her outlook remains guarded.

“The standards have not shown improvement academically, have become politically toxic, were responsible in large part for [Jeb] Bush’s [presidential] campaign failure, and there are several people in Florida running for higher office or rumored to be running in the 2018 election cycle, so we’ll have to see,” Effrem said.

Common Core Hangover

Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute, says Common Core is still having its effect in states where it has ostensibly been ended.

“In an ideal world, states would develop their own higher-quality standards and aligned tests,” said Gass. “The problem is that the Common Core has damaged and corrupted the academic quality of many states’ standards, which then requires state legislators, conscientious educators, and parents to seek local remedies and workarounds in the hopes of securing a better-quality, non-Common Core education for schoolchildren.”

Still Tied to Tests

Ze’ev Wurman, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and a former U.S. Department of Education official under President George W. Bush, says passing these bills would make little difference because state tests are based on state standards, and all Florida students must take the state tests.

“The Florida bill, even if it passes, will make little impact unless it also offers the option of those districts to adjust the state assessment in some way to match the modified standards,” Wurman said. “Otherwise, Florida laws force local districts to certify that their instructional materials are aligned with the Sunshine State Standards and their students must take the regular state test, so who really cares that the district adopted some different—even if better—standards?”

Wurman says there could be an argument students taught a higher standard would do better on state tests based on lower standards, but the way students are expected to answer the test questions would nullify this advantage.

“Most post-[Common Core] tests stress the way and the specific vocabulary students use to solve questions, rather than focus largely on correct facts, correct answers, and their rigorous objective analysis,” Wurman said. “Consequently, students who know much more and in greater depth can still be at a disadvantage when taking the state test, as they may be unfamiliar with the jargon expected of them.”

Jenni White ([email protected]writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.