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South Florida Teachers, Parents Suggest Changes To Proposed Academic Standards During Forum

Cat Gloria
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, shown here during a state Board of Education meeting earlier this year, is traveling the state gathering input about Florida's next academic standards.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is moving forward with one of the Republican’s chief campaign promises: eliminating  Common Core academic standards from Florida schools.

Shortly after taking office in January, DeSantis issued an executive order directing the state Department of Education to review Florida’s academic standards and provide recommended changes by the end of the year.

The department must “articulate how Florida will eliminate Common Core,” according to the order. DeSantis also demanded “a roadmap to make Florida's standards No. 1 in the nation.”

Education Commissioner and former  House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican, took that directive one step further during a public forum on revisions to the standards at a Palm Beach County high school on Monday night.

“We’re going to have the world’s best standards,” Corcoran said. “If we get this right, we are literally going to change the hearts and minds and souls of our schoolchildren.”

Common Core is a set of academic standards that outlines what students should learn each year in math and English language arts.

It’s the basis of Florida’s current standards, although the Common Core moniker was shed under former Republican Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator. That’s because of a political backlash related to Democratic former  President Barack Obama, whose signature education policies encouraged the adoption of Common Core and stoked concerns about federal overreach into classrooms.

DeSantis repeatedly drew applause on the campaign trail by pledging to “stop”  Common Core in Florida. But getting rid of  Common Core will be difficult because it’s thoroughly integrated into practically everything that happens in a classroom.

Some of the speakers at Monday's forum were skeptical about state officials’ motives in revising the standards yet again.

Monroe County School Board Member Sue Woltanski was the first speaker.

“I’m a school board member, but I drove about two hours to get here today to speak for my two public school children, whose education has already been disrupted twice by politically motivated standards changes,” Woltanski said. “So I’m hoping this standards change sticks.

“If the goal is to completely eliminate Common Core, then I don’t understand why we didn’t just go back to the previous, pre-Common Core standards to serve as our baseline,” she said.

“There’s no politics here,” Corcoran said later in the meeting.

He said the purpose of the public hearing was to “garner additional scrutiny” and “criticism” in order to improve the department’s current drafts of new standards.

Speaking on the substance, Woltanski also argued the algebra standards should be streamlined. She said the proposal would require students to learn an unrealistic amount in one year, setting them up for failure in more advanced math courses.

Other speakers argued that the early-grade reading standards should be more inclusive for dyslexic students. Parents and teachers of dyslexic children advocated for multisensory learning, which incorporates movement and tactile tasks into classwork rather than just visual activities.

A Broward parent said she’d like to see social emotional learning at the forefront, especially as students recover from the trauma of the Parkland school shooting and grapple with the lockdowns and other security measures that have followed.

Monday's forum was one of nine held or planned for this month, part of Corcoran’s statewide “listening tour.”

It’s the only stop in Southeast Florida, as of the current schedule. No events have been planned for Miami-Dade or Broward counties, which are the most populous counties and boast the highest school-district enrollments in the state. Both are home to outspoken teachers’ unions that have criticized Corcoran, DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature’s education policies.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of  United Teachers of Dade, called it “short sighted and disingenuous” for a statewide listening tour to “skip” the two biggest counties with districts each enrolling hundreds of thousands of students.

“To say we are an afterthought in Tallahassee is being generous,” she said.

State education department spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said the locations were chosen strategically to be accessible from urban, suburban and rural communities, and they were places that were not well represented in the public comments already received on the proposed standards.

She also said there were initially plans to hold a hearing in Broward, but they were scrapped because of conflicts with the Legislature’s committee meeting schedule. Top state education officials needed to be available to provide expert testimony to lawmakers in Tallahassee and were therefore not able to travel, she said.

During the meeting, Corcoran said the department will likely hold additional hearings beyond the ones that have already been announced.

Members of the public are able to submit comments here.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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