Coalition Reponse to Senator John Legg Education Memo Dated 9/6/13

Dear Senator Legg,

On behalf of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition (FSCCC), a statewide organization composed of dozens of groups representing thousands of Florida citizens and voters across the state, we would like to respectfully point out some differences in fact and understanding regarding your memo on education standards dated 9/6/13.

Academic Standards:  The standards that you posted to the Senate Education website that were adopted by the State Board of Education on July 27, 2010 are the Common Core standards.  These standards are seriously flawed, because they lack academic rigor and evidence of international benchmarking, are associated with radical curriculum, and teach psychological attributes without parental knowledge or consent. 

Calling them the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards instead of Common Core does not change these facts:  1) Florida was required to adopt these copyrighted national standards verbatim in order to receive its Race to the Top grant; 2) According to the Northeast Florida Education Guide, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) determined not to exercise even the minimal opportunity for state control by adding 15% of its own content to the
standards; 3) As evidenced by the Northeast Florida Education Guide, your June 14th Tampa Tribune column was incorrect.  Florida, in fact, has NOT "adopted its own rigorous standards beyond the minimum Common Core State Standards." The state adopted only the Common Core in English and math; 4) That statement in your column also begs the question Are the Common Core standards "rigorous" and "internationally benchmarked" as claimed by you and other proponents, or are they "minimum?";  5) If you and the rest of the legislature intend to keep the Common Core standards, then your gracious offer to "hear...input" is actually moot, because there are no plans to change them by the private, unaccountable national groups that hired five major authors with no K-12 classroom experience to write the standards.  

Curriculum:  Speaking for our organization, we have never said that adopting the Common Core standards "obligates our teachers and students to a federally -generated or nationally mandated curriculum."  However, it would be extremely na├»ve to believe that these standards have nothing to do with curriculum.  Though not federally mandated, both because of federal incentives and because the stakes for the federally funded and supervised national assessments aligned to these national standards are so high, standards drive curriculum.  The consequences for testing include teacher pay and tenure, district funding, student grade advancement and graduation.  In theory, as you say, "Decision and control over classroom curriculum and instructional materials remain at the state and local levels."  But, given all of these major stakes, do you honestly believe that a teacher or a district is going to choose their own curriculum?  We believe that they are far more likely to use the federally funded and supervised model curriculum developed by the national testing consortia or something from the official list of text exemplars listed in Appendix B of the Common Core English standards, because they believe they will achieve high scores with these curricular materials.  Some of these texts are sexually explicit, promote a skewed view of the Constitution, or have other problems. Teachers are retiring or quitting in droves as test preparation time is expanded, curriculum is narrowed, and they are unable to teach their students as they see fit. 

Assessments:  We are very appreciative that President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford agree with some of our many concerns about the PARCC assessment.  Although some critical elements are lacking, we also agree with the list of elements that should be in place for a "Florida assessment" that they listed in their letter and that you quoted in your memo.  Perhaps if this and following the parameters passed in SB 1076 and HB 7009 had been done for the PARCC in a more timely fashion, the state would not be in such a state of chaos regarding the implementation of the standards, aligned high stakes assessments, the school grading system that former commissioner Bennett had to adjust in two different states, and teacher evaluations.  Perhaps also, Florida would not be dealing with a $342 million swing in cost estimates, consideration of tax increases, the laying off of teachers, elimination of programs, and so much concern and uncertainty about this whole system. 

Even if all of these other important concerns are addressed, there are still two large "elephants in the room."  The first is that the standards, as described above, are too flawed to retain even with a "Florida" assessment.  The second is that no one is discussing the massive amount of personal student, family, and teacher data, including psychological data, that is and will be gathered via these assessments and now much more easily made available to the federal government, corporations, and outside researchers due to the significant weakening of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that engendered a federal lawsuit heard on July 24th.      

1) The only way to truly make the standards Florida's own is to withdraw from Common Core and develop standards that truly are Florida's instead of just in name. This is what FSCCC hopes you will do.  Even staying with the current standards would be better, less painful, and far less expensive for the state, given that Florida's standards are already rated higher in math and just a bit lower in English than the Common Core. This rating comes from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, acknowledged by many proponents of the Common Core standards, including the Florida DOE. 

2) Ideally, parents and duly elected school boards should control standards, curriculum and assessments.  The federal government's involvement since 1965 and the imposition of state standards and tests via Goals 2000 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) has cost US taxpayers over two trillion dollars while achievement scores have stagnated or declined, the achievement gap is unchanged, state and local sovereignty has eroded, and parents' rights and data privacy are routinely violated.

3)  The concept of high stakes testing should be reconsidered.  Accountability should be to parents and locally elected school boards, not to the state, the federal government, or corporations.  A child's educational experience and a teacher's performance should not be reduced to one number. 
4) The inculcation, monitoring, and data collection of psychosocial attitudes, values and beliefs must cease immediately.  That has no place in a free republic.  It is the job of families and religious institutions, not government via the schools to do that work.

5) Data privacy protections need to be significantly strengthened.  Instead of bills like SB 878 that sought to give our children's individual data to the federal government, corporations, and researchers without consent, we need real protections such as the ones furnished during the last session in opposition to SB 878.

Thank you for your work to improve the education of Florida's children.  We look forward to continuing this critical discussion as the interim committee hearings and the session approach. Much more detailed information with extensive references is available in our policy analysis.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you or any of your members would like to discuss this vital issue further.
Karen R. Effrem, MD                                                                                                     
President of Education Liberty Watch
Co-Founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition               


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