2013: A Year of Controversy, Change in Florida Education

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: January 1, 2014 3:55 AM
2013 Education

Education was a hot topic in the Sunshine State during 2013, with a new commissioner taking over and a new set of education standards right around the corner.

Here’s what made headlines in Florida education in 2013:

Safety net extended

The Florida Department of Education made the decision to extend the school safety net, which would effectively prevent a school from dropping more than one letter grade in a year. The decision to extend the safety net was made after superintendents raised concerns that the current grading system was too harsh. The safety net, they believe, would ultimately provide stability while Florida’s education system undergoes the transition to Common Core.

Goodbye, Tony Bennett

Florida also said goodbye to another education commissioner in 2013 when Tony Bennett resigned after word broke out that he changed the grade of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican donor. Bennett was eventually replaced by Pam Stewart.

See you soon, Common Core

Common Core dominated headlines in Florida education in 2013. Florida decided to adopt the standards in 2010, but they won’t be fully implemented in schools until the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core means schools across the state will have to change the way teachers teach and students learn, as the standards adhere to a “deeper understanding” of material in mathematics and English.

… or maybe not?

While Department of Education officials seemed to be looking forward to the new standards, not everyone was happy about them. With every step forward to implementation, Common Core State Standards seemed to be riddled with controversy. Parents, teachers and concerned members of the public fought back against the standards, criticizing them for potential data mining and saying the standards are a step down from the direction students should be headed in. Some opponents called for a pause on the standards, while others said Florida shouldn’t implement them at all.

The test most commonly associated with Common Core, PARCC, was met with backlash from Common Core opposition groups and even legislators in the Sunshine State, who expressed concerns that the assessment test would be too costly and time-consuming to use in Florida’s schools. Eventually, Gov. Rick Scott pumped the brakes on the financial portion of the PARCC test, though it still remains an option for Florida’s new assessment test.

Voices against Common Core grow, public hearings held

As part of pulling out of the fiscal agent portion of PARCC, Scott demanded that the Department of Education hold three public hearings across the state so members of the public could voice their concerns. Hearings were held in Tampa, Tallahassee and Davie, and over 30,000 comments about the standards were submitted on the department’s website.

What test will replace the FCAT?

With the onset of Common Core, Florida will have to replace the FCAT test. The department accepted applications for a new standardized test to replace the FCAT until December 2016, but it’s unknown what test specifically will be replacing it. Although Florida pulled out of the financial portion of PARCC, the test still remains an option for Florida’s schools.

State Board loses Sally Bradshaw, Kathleen Shanahan, Barbara Feingold

The State Board of Education lost three longtimers in 2013: Sally Bradshaw, Kathleen Shanahan, and Barbara Feingold.

Bradshaw, who served as a one-time chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush, resigned in November, two months before her term was scheduled to end.

Shanahan, who also served under Gov. Bush, had been a vocal critic of Florida’s grading system and criticized Gov. Scott for not attending his own education summit. Her term ended Dec. 31 and she will be replaced by Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, the former executive director of Teach for America Miami-Dade.

Barbara Feingold’s term on the board also ended Dec. 31, but replacements for her and Bradshaw have not yet been named.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen

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