As education leaders across the state are well aware by now, Florida is in the beginning stages of an effort designed to change education standards for the fifth time in 24 years.
There are defensible reasons for exploring changes to the standards ― our state should never be complacent when it comes to improving student outcomes, and standards can always be improved upon — but there are also political reasons, dating back to former Gov. Rick Scott’s vow to repeal Common Core based largely on the charged nature of the term itself.
Looking strictly at the education-driven purposes for standards revisions, there’s plenty to dissect and debate. In analyzing the current status of standards reform, it’s evident we must identify a more productive path.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have certainly proposed a nice-sounding and likely genuine goal of ensuring Florida has the “world’s best standards,” dismantling the rigorous and effective Florida Standards and starting from scratch with a brand new set is not the best way to support students and educators.
In fact, surveying administrators and teachers across the state, it’s hard to find examples of anyone on the ground day-to-day in our schools who is calling for a change to the current standards.
In a Tampa Bay Times op-ed, veteran math educator Brian Dean expressed a perspective shared by many: “The Florida Standards, what we have in schools now and were just reviewed and revised a few years ago, are good academic standards.”
He later added, “Let’s not throw away all the good work that’s been done in school. Let’s make appropriate changes to update and strengthen the current standards that are putting students on the path to academic success.”
Dean drew on compelling evidence to support his point that the current standards are working well.
Florida students have improved their state and national test scores in the past three years, since the standards were revised. Teachers have come to deeply understand student learning objectives as set forth in those standards, helping them to improve instruction and continue to support student progress.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the nation’s report card,” Florida students significantly outperform the national average in fourth grade math and reading, ranking among the top states for the percentage of students who are at or above both the “basic” and “proficient” achievement levels.
Our state has achieved these gains despite a continuing teacher shortage, demonstrating how a sustained commitment to a single set of standards can help teachers refine their instruction, feel valued and make impressive strides in supporting student achievement, notwithstanding resource shortfalls.
Even with this trend of success, though, there remains plenty of room for improvement and stubbornly arguing in favor of the status quo is not my intent.
The proposed new standards fall well shy of the level of rigor we should demand in our schools, but that doesn’t mean the current standards are perfect either. There are ways the Florida Legislature can implement meaningful change that will set educators up to succeed while maintaining the high rigor needed to prepare students for their futures.
Aside from keeping the standards as is, there are essentially two options.
The first involves revising the current standards with the least disruption, leaving them mostly in place but making specific improvements in a few key areas. The second option is a wholesale change ― adopting standards from another state that have already proven successful.
No matter which option Florida decides to take, the standards must be rigorous.
There are a small number of states that never adopted Common Core which could be examples for Florida. But better yet, there are states that adopted it and made revisions based on what worked and what didn’t.
Consider New York’s Next Generation Learning Standards in both ELA and math, adopted in 2017. More than 130 educators and parents collaborated over two years to revise these standards and the early results show promise.
If state policymakers want to adopt standards that never had the “Common Core” brand but keep rigor, consider the state of Texas’ math standards and Indiana’s ELA standards. Both are considered rigorous.
Reform is a good thing, as is progress. But we must avoid change for the sake of change and, instead, ensure we put forth a plan for true improvement.
Moving ahead with a proven set of standards addresses the key challenges of the current reform effort ― it saves on the time and expense of starting from scratch, maintains high quality and rigor, makes certain the standards can be implemented with fidelity by our teachers ― and gives Florida educators and students a bright future.
As an education community, let’s seize on the energy and appetite for standards improvement and use it to our advantage. There is a path to success if we choose the right direction.