Florida Commissioner Tony Bennett’s Unsuccessful Attempt to Defend Common Core

Florida Education Commissioner was interviewed by Daybreak Show host Drew Steele on WFSX FM out of Naples on May 24th.  Mr. Steele is a staunch opponent of Common Core, and even though he asked tough questions, conducted a very polite interview.  Still, it was obvious that the commissioner is in over his head trying to defend the indefensible.  The podcast is available here.  Below follows some of our responses to his statements.
Statement (Bennett): "Common core is not a curriculum."
Facts:  Common Core is a set of national standards that is aligned to federally funded and supervised national tests and model curriculum that will drive curriculum choices, because the stakes are so high for the test results. It is highly unlikely that teachers or districts will choose curriculum that is very different from the national model curriculum or the text exemplars in the English standards (see below). As Bennett's interviewer, Drew Steele, eloquently stated, "If the teachers are making the curriculum but they are teaching to a federal test that tells us some of these things we need to teach to, then I am not sure it makes any difference, because it's still the federal government telling us what to do."  

Statement (Bennett): "That's exactly what should happen in my vision with Common Core.  The local communities are in charge of what gets taught."

Facts: Florida is the financial agent for PARCC, one of the two large groups of states putting together the national tests that will be given multiple times per year on computer.  These tests are aligned to the national standards, NOT the 15% of standards that the states were "allowed" to use as their part of the standards after the states were required to adopt the national standards verbatim.  This also applies to whatever a local school district may try to choose.  It will be functionally impossible for teachers and districts to choose what is taught and still have their students do well on these national and federally controlled tests unless it is compliant with these national standards and associated model curriculum.  Many teachers have written about how they are leaving the profession because trust for knowing what and how to teach has been taken away with Common Core as they are forced to use scripted lessons or online curriculum to teach to tests.  (See here for more details).

Statement (Bennett): "I am a huge local control guy... if I capitulate to the federal government, then I want to be held accountable to that and I hope Governor Scott does.

Facts:  The commissioner is in an appointed position, not an elected one.  When he was in an elected position, he lost his election due to his staunch support of Common Core.  Additionally, if local control is so important, why do we need an appointed commissioner and state board of education making such a huge decision that affects millions of Florida students, teachers, and families to adopt Common Core without public hearings explaining it or consulting with any elected legislators or school board members?

Statement (Bennett and Scott):  There will be no more teaching to the test as with the FCAT.

Facts:  A Palm Beach Post editorial reminds us of the problems that occurred with making the FCAT high stakes that include, "The test covered only a few subjects, students took it long before the end of the school year, and half of elementary and high-school students didn't even take it. Yet the entire school received a grade, on which parents, students and Realtors fixated." "Teaching to the test" will only grow worse under Common Core because the stakes are so high and will continue to grow higher for everyone.  Grade promotion, graduation, teacher pay and tenure, and district funding are or will all be based on test scores. If the Obama administration has its way, federal Title I funds will be tied to test scores and whether states are using the Common Core as well.  

Statement (Bennett):   "We should be using things like our founding documents, like the critical conversations, like Shakespeare."

 Facts: While it is true that the list of text examples reference the major American founding documents  and some works of William Shakespeare, there are several problems.  The list of exemplar texts do not include the entire U.S. Constitution, but do include a reading from an EPA manual about Insulation levels and another about health care costs.  The model curriculum for the Gettysburg Address requires students to read it and for it to be taught without emotion, historical background or context One teacher who tried to use this model curriculum said, "The exemplar instructs teachers to 'avoid giving any background context" because the Common Core's close reading strategy "forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.'"  The point of learning the Gettysburg address should not be for test preparation or for social justice.  The Shakespeare examples are accompanied by Julia Alvarez's work In the Time of the Butterflies to be taught in 9th and 10th grades that some college professors are embarrassed to teach due to the book's sexually explicit nature and leftist propaganda elements.  These are just a few of the myriad examples of problems with these national standards, national tests, and model curriculum just in English Language Arts.
Statement (Bennett):  The state of Florida obtained Race to the Top funds to pay for the costs of implementing Common Core Standards.

Facts:  Race to the Top is a four year grant that will run out after 2014, and as is being discovered with the costs of insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion, will not completely cover the costs of implementation, much less ongoing use.  The Pioneer Institute estimates that implementation in Florida will be over $1.024 billion dollars.  Florida received $906 million in grants.  There has been no cost analysis in Florida and the commissioner's cost estimate was off by $342 million for this next fiscal year.

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