“A major victory in the effort to reverse … Common Core!” (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I explained what SB1496-Assessments and Accountability would do, put the bill in a broader national perspective, and pointed out the local efforts to support it.  In this post, I’ll give you my take on what’s at stake, and suggest some next steps.

What’s at stake: educational standards
Florida ranked 32nd of 50 states in the 2014 Education Week Chance for Success Index. This index is a compilation of 13 individual metrics including preparation in early childhood, performance of the public schools, and educational and economic outcomes in adulthood.

While Florida is in the bottom half of the states in the national ranking, the nation is in a disappointing position as well. An evaluation of education systems worldwide by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the United States 36th of the 64 countries tested in 2012. Our mean PISA score was below the PISA country average in mathematics, and only at the PISA average in reading and science.

The lack of competitiveness of Florida’s and America’s schools concerns me. It concerned the drafters of what came to be known as the Common Core State Standards as well – which is why the standards were developed in the first place. (See my prior post about Common Core.)

It seems obvious that having each local school district choose its own educational standards, a feature of SB1496, will only make matters worse. In my view, all public schools in the United States should be held to the same high standards, developed by professional educators who are experts in their fields. Therefore I oppose the changes to educational standards that are proposed by SB1496. What’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What’s at stake: testing
There is a consensus among all interested parties, including the Governor and Florida legislators as well as superintendents, educators, parents and students, that there’s too much testing in Florida’s schools.

It is a concern nationally as well. According to a report last year by the Center for American Progress, 49 percent of parents think there is too much standardized testing in schools. But that same report cites another poll in which 75 percent of parents said regular testing is important.

For the same reasons (national competitiveness) I do not support local control of standards-setting, I do not support solely local control of testing.

To me, what’s important is not how frequently kids are tested, but what is tested, how well the test results reflect what students know, and whether those results are used to improve instruction and assess our competitiveness with other districts, states and nations. The less instructional hours devoted to accomplishing those goals, the better.

I support legislative and district-level efforts to reduce the frequency of testing and the amount of time students spend taking tests, but I do not support SB1496’s removal of statewide standardized tests and the requirement to participate in national and international education comparisons. Nor do I support its allowing each district to choose its own pre–2009, national norm-referenced assessments.

I hope the Legislature finds a way to reduce the amount of testing while maintaining the ability to compare student achievement from district to district, state to state and nation to nation. Only in this way will stakeholders know which districts need help so they can attempt to address the problem. Again: what’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What’s at stake: data collection
I would be very surprised if data currently reported to the state or federal government isn’t “anonymized, de- identified, and aggregated.” I simply do not share the concern of those who fear the government’s collection of information from our schools. Unless and until there is a problem, I think the benefits of measuring and monitoring the results of our schools exceeds any concerns about hypothetical privacy infringement. Without measurement and monitoring, how will we know how our schools and students are performing? So I do not support the provisions of SB1496 to put additional laws in place to limit data collection. What’s at stake – once again – is the competitiveness of our nation.

What’s at stake: sex education
Sex education is taught in public schools because young people are sexually active, and they start at an early age. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, a 2011 survey of Florida high school students found that eight percent had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13, and 16 percent had sexual intercourse with four or more people. In a 2009 nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 48 percent of female high school students and 53 percent of male high school students in Florida reported ever having had sexual intercourse, and 37 percent of both male and female respondents reported being currently sexually active (defined as having had sexual intercourse in the three months prior to the survey).

It is inevitable that requiring parents to explicitly allow their child to participate in sex education (i.e. opt in) as opposed to the current opt-out law that requires the parent to forbid the child’s participation (i.e. opt out) will result in more teen pregnancy. This will make it harder for those teens to focus on their studies and complete school. Ultimately – again – the competitiveness of our nation is at stake.

Next steps
Florida Legislators have introduced over 100 bills concerning education for consideration this session. It is very likely that something will be passed that changes current law concerning each of the areas addressed by SB1496.

We know that the people behind the bill are working hard to get its key provisions passed into law. And there are many ways to get that done. It doesn’t have to be this specific bill; they can amend other bills to include their desired language.

I urge you to consider what’s at stake. Then write or call each of the elected officials who represents Collier County in Tallahassee and share your views on the issues – educational standards, testing, data collection, and opt-in vs. opt-out sex education – rather than this specific bill.

Governor Rick Scott – (850) 488–7146
State Senator Dwight Bullard – (850) 487–5039
State Senator Garrett Richter – (850) 487–5023
State Representative Matt Hudson – (850) 717–5080
State Representative Kathleen Passidomo – (850) 717–5106
State Representative Carlos Trujillo – (850) 717–5105

Contact them regularly. Let them know you’re watching them and that you care. Don’t let those who don’t share your values be the only voices they hear.

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