Common Core may be the most controversial education issue you know nothing about. It's been trashed on radio talk shows and touted in speeches, and it will be the subject of three public hearings across the state this month. Yet 55 percent of parents are clueless about the nationwide initiative, a recent poll showed.
Here are answers to some of the most common Common Core questions.
What is Common Core?
Common Core is a set of academic standards spelling out what students should learn in language arts and math from kindergarten to 12th grade. The standards have been adopted by 45 states, including Florida. Educators use these standards to create courses, select textbooks and devise lessons.
Why did Florida adopt Common Core? Didn't we already have standards?
Yes, Florida had its own language-arts and math standards (plus standards for science, social studies and other subjects). State educators say the Common Core standards are similar to but better than Florida's current ones, which they describe as sometimes vague. Common Core requires students to learn math, reading and writing at a "deeper level of mastery." That means less focus on rote memorization and more on problem-solving and reading more complex texts.
Why is that better?
Common Core advocates say more rigorous standards mean higher expectations for students — and more students will leave high school ready for college or decent-paying jobs. They also argue common standards across many states will better position American students in a global economy.
So why is there opposition?
Many opponents in Florida view the standards as a "federal intrusion" into public education, which they say should be a state and local concern.
"It's a loss of local control and parental input in the process," said Laura Caruso, a St. Cloud mother opposed to Common Core. "Florida has given up her educational independence. She's signed it away."
Some fear the multistate standards will lead to a national student database and "data mining" that will violate youngsters' privacy. Others worry the new standards will lead to more high-stakes standardized testing and siphon money away from other public-school programs.
Is the controversy over Common Core a conservative-vs.-liberal issue?
No. In fact, Common Core has created some unlikely allies. Some conservatives, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush, are staunch supporters. But so is the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union. Other conservatives, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, talk-show host Glenn Beck and tea-party activists, are opposed. So is the Badass Teachers Association, a nonpartisan group with left-leaning leaders.
Is it true that Common Core standards are the work of the federal government?
No. The standards were developed through the National Governors Association and state education commissioners, with Florida an early supporter. President Barack Obama's administration, however, encouraged states to adopt the standards by making them a key part of its Race to the Top competition. Some say that amounted to federal coercion. Florida adopted the standards the same day it learned it was a Race to the Top finalist. It eventually won $700 million.
Will Common Core undermine security of student data?
No, the state does not share "student-level information" with the federal government now and won't do so under Common Core, said the Florida Department of Education. The Data Quality Campaign, an advocacy group, said federal law doesn't allow the creation of a national student database. But those worries, especially given the recent controversy over the actions of the National Security Agency, aren't surprising, said Aimee Guidera, the Data Quality Campaign's executive director.
What do teachers think?
Florida has more than 171,000 public-school teachers, so opinions vary. But many seem to support the standards, even as they worry whether they are ready to teach them.
"I think some are nervous. I think some really see this is the direction we need to be going," said Michelle Durni-Austin, math and science coach at Apopka Middle in Orange County. "I'm for it, definitely."
She likes that Common Core-based lessons require students to work through multistep problems and justify their answers. She also likes that some math skills once saved for secondary students will be introduced in elementary school, giving youngsters more time to master them. The end result, she hopes, will be more students graduating and leaving high school well-prepared for college.
Does Common Core mean new standardized tests?
Yes. Once Common Core standards are in place, Florida will need to retire most of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and some of its end-of-course exams, as they are aligned to old standards. The state is creating new exams in math, reading and writing, likely for students in grades three to 11.
Will the new tests be like FCAT?
The new exams are meant to be more involved than the FCAT, which is mostly multiple choice. They could require students also to show their work on math problems and write essays citing evidence from documents. And state leaders want tests that can compare Florida student performance to that in other states.
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