Caving in to tea party criticism of a national education reform effort known as Common Core State Standards, Gov. Rick Scott pulled Florida out of a multi-state consortium developing tests to the replace the failed Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But in a move sure to confound and confuse Common Core foes, Scott directed his latest education commissioner to move ahead with the development of new tests based on the same standards.
It’s a maddening continuation of reform for the sake of reform, with private testing companies and pricey consultants reaping rewards while educators and students contend with a revolving door of standards, tests and expectations.
Scott’s slight-of-hand — kow-towing to the anti-Obama contrarianism that defines his party and its supporters — doesn’t even conceal a trump card. Instead of working with other states — not the federal government as opponents have tried to portray the testing regime — Florida will now attempt to follow a parallel path that holds students to the same standards as other states while having to develop its own tests.
That Scott’s move is purely political is beyond doubt. Florida has been working with other states for several years. Forty-five states have adopted Common Core and Florida joined them in working with the private Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Only last August Scott trumpeted the new standards as an improvement on the hated practice of “teaching to the test.”
The dismal failure of the state’s FCAT 2.0 became the poster child for teaching to the test when the Board of Education was forced to fudge school grades based on the new tests because schools across the state were unprepared for the changes and student performance dropped precipitously.
Scott’s hand-picked Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was forced to resign in disgrace this summer when a report surfaced alleging he fixed grades for an Indiana charter school run by a prominent GOP donor. His successor, Pam Stewart, is Scott’s fourth education commissioner is less than three years.
To prosper economically, Florida must improve the actual and perceived quality of its education system. The only way to gauge its success is by comparing student and school performance against that of students and schools in other states. By going it alone, Florida would have to make its case using different tests and possibly different standards. If Florida were to “outperform” other states on a different test, it would immediately raise suspicion that the tests and standards were inferior. If Florida underperforms versus other states participating in the PARCC, it would wear a scarlett letter no matter how vociferously officials argued its tests were harder and standards higher.
Whatever flaws exist in the Common Core State Standards — and all reforms have flaws because they are by their nature experimental theories writ on a grand scale — the logic behind Scott’s move is more flawed. National standards don’t undermine purposefully ill-defined states’ rights concerns expressed by opponents, they empower individual states through fair competition and hold education and political leaders accountable for results.
The only good thing about Scott’s naked political gambit is that Florida may wind up in the exact same place this time next year, by which time the Common Core hysterics will have moved on to the next shiny object of obsession.