Past Year Brought Change, Controversy to Florida's Education
Around the State
School’s out for summer, and with another year in the books, what a perfect time to take a look back at the academic year-that-was in Florida’s education system.
New Year, New Commissioner
Before the 2013-2014 academic year even started, the Florida Department of Education had already seen changes with the departure of Commissioner Tony Bennett. Bennett announced his resignation in August following reports he had political motives for changing the grade of an Indiana charter school.
Bennett was replaced by Pam Stewart, who was thrust into one of the most controversial years the Florida education system has ever seen.
The Battle of Common Core
Nothing whipped Florida’s education system into a frenzy quite like Common Core State Standards. Opponents of the national education standards protested at State Board of Education meetings, wrote state lawmakers and spread the word of what they perceived to be a dangerous invasion of privacy and a federal takeover of the state education system.
Initially, it appeared the protests had fallen on deaf ears, but House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz expressed their concerns over PARCC, an assessment test commonly associated with Common Core. In July, the two penned a letter to Gov. Rick Scott advising him to pull the Sunshine State out of the test and ultimately head in a different direction to assess students’ academic achievement.
It wasn’t long after that the governor announced Florida would be pulling out of PARCC. On top of the state’s withdrawal from the test, Scott also ordered three public hearings on Common Core to gather input on possible changes to the standards.
The hearings drew hundreds of anti-Common Core protesters who wanted either a pause or total withdrawal of Common Core. On top of the three hearings, the department received approximately 19,000 online comments on how to improve the standards.
Despite not accomplishing much in terms of passing legislation to pull out of Common Core, opponents say they don’t have any intentions of giving up on fighting for their cause.
“We’re redoubling our efforts,” said Chris Quackenbush of Stop Common Core FL. “We plan to be active in the election process and make sure that all the candidates are aware they’re not getting our vote unless they vote to get Common Core out of our state.
“We’ve gone the extra mile to inform people all over the state about our concern with Common Core,” she continued. “There’s something in Common Core for everyone to hate, so it’s easy for us to gain new alliances once people understand it hurts everyone.”
A Brand New Name
The FDOE said it would take all suggestions from the public hearings into consideration, ultimately resulting in nearly 100 changes to the Common Core standards.
With the changes came a rebranding effort from the department -- no longer would Florida’s education standards be called “Common Core,” but instead would be titled “Florida Standards,” bringing the name a little bit closer to home.
See You Later, FCAT
This year also marked a significant farewell for Florida’s education system -- after a 16-year relationship with the FCAT, the Sunshine State decided to move on to greener pastures to a new assessment test more aligned with the Florida Standards.
American Institutes for Research won the testing contract to replace the FCAT and will be debuting an entirely new test next year.
A Look Ahead
The 2014-2015 academic year will be a step into the relatively unknown. With a new set of standards and a new assessment test could come new challenges, but to the FDOE, the future seems bright.
"Overall, it’s been an historic year," said FDOE Communications Director Joe Follick. "In February, the State Board of Education considered unprecedented public input in approving new Florida Standards that guarantee our students will be prepared to succeed when they graduate."
Follick pointed to a record-high education budget as part of the good news for Florida's education system looking forward.
"While the budget for next year hasn’t been signed yet, it’s set to be the highest amount of state funding for K-12 in history," he said. "Gov. Scott proposed a more than $2 billion increase in K-12 funding in the past three years, bringing the state’s spending to an historic high of nearly $18.9 billion for next year."
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.