Proposed Common Core standards blasted at state education meeting

  • Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart

Does anyone like the Common Core?

It sure didn't seem that way in Orlando this morning, where the state Board of Education met to approve amendments to the extremely controversial statewide education standards that officials call the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, but are better known by its opponents as the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core is a set of academic standards spelling out what students should learn in language arts and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards have been adopted by 45 states, including Florida. Educators use these standards to create courses, select textbooks and devise lessons.

But the opposition to these standards, mostly if not exclusive from the right, seems to be increasing by the day, and today the state board of Education was verbally whipsawed by angry parents and current and former teachers who consider the new standards anathema to improving the lives of young people in Florida.

None of the critics who spoke before the board were swayed by the change of the name. Karen Ephrom called it a "bait and switch."

"It will eliminate local control and parental involvement and opens the door for invasive data mining, and caters to the special interest influences that we're seeing with the Gates Foundation," said Alice Price. "We don't need cookie-cutter education to fit our kids, because we can't put our children into a box. I would think that every logical teacher would object to Common Core."

Stacy Clark complained that Florida schoolchildren are already suffering from anxiety attacks, headaches and even "self-mutilations."

Deb Caso from Pinellas County compared Common Core to Communist China, and blasted Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, Rick Scott and Bill Gates, earning large cheers.

A few speakers warned Governor Rick Scott that he had better come out and oppose the Common Core, or else. One gentleman said if Scott doesn't get behind the critics, then "conservatives, libertarians, 9/12ers are going to sit this out," adding that Jeb Bush (who supports the Common Core) won't get Scott re-elected — it will be the grassroots who will (or won't).

Frank Caprio, a Republican candidate for the House in the Orlando area, blasted the board of education members for not paying attention to the speakers. "These are the people we're supposed to listen to!" he bellowed.

Krista Devental used a Nazi reference, and said that adopting the Common Core standards made her fear for her country and for Florida. "We relinquish control of what? And how? This is a slippery slope."

Other speakers with no apparent love for Barack Obama bashed comments from U.S.Department of Education chief Arne Duncan for referring to "social justice." The name "Bill Ayres" was also used pejoratively as well.

But not everyone critical of Common Core is from the political right.

“Instead of listening to teachers, administrators, school districts, school boards and parents, the state is proposing minor cosmetic changes that don’t address the real concerns of everyone involved in public education,” said Florida Education Association head Andy Ford, who found common cause with many folks who generally have no use for teachers' unions.

“Florida needs a pause in this madness,” Ford said. “School grades are underpinned by high-stakes testing. Even with the education commissioner’s proposed grading simplification, grades will still be largely based on high-stakes testing — [on] a test we don’t even have yet.”

Florida Democratic Party Progressive Caucus head Susan Smith is also critical of the Common Core. Smith (a former schoolteacher) told CL via text message that she opposes the new standards because "they're developmentally inappropriate and they haven't been field tested," adding that the same "bad actors who want privatization" are backing the plan.

Eileen Segal from the Florida PTA said her organization also wanted a pause before the standards are set to begin next year.

There were also, believe it or not, a few supporters in the house. Watching the Florida Channel webcast, this reporter counted three among the dozens who opposed the measure. Two were from Florida Tax Watch; Morgan McCord from the group said that "these standards will help our students be competitive in the global economy."

A former teacher from South Central Los Angeles also spoke out in support of the new standards. She elicited a hail of boos after saying she was now a community organizer, but looked back at the crowd and said that, having worked in middle schools, she wasn't easily swayed.

At the end of the morning session, the board of education voted unanimously to go ahead with the new standards. But if today's sometimes raucous meeting in Orlando was any occasion, this issue isn't going away.

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