Last week, Gov. Rick Scott advised U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan that Florida is withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
This consortium of 17 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, was working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in math and English so that states could compare their students' success in adapting to the Common Core State Standards against those in other states. Florida had previously taken a lead role in PARCC, acting as its fiscal agent. Common Core, which reflects a bipartisan consensus arrived at by representatives of over 40 states, is set to go into effect nationally in the 2014-15 school year.
Across the state, newspapers such as the Tampa Bay Times have blasted Scott's move as a sop to the tea party wing of the Republican Party, calling it a "big step backward" in a recent editorial, which ran in The Citizen Thursday.
The news has also slightly unnerved Monroe County educators, though many appear to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude -- and hoping for the best.
"At this point I don't know for sure what [the governor's action] means," said Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter, who brought the issue up at Tuesday night's School Board meeting. "Initially there's some cause for concern. I think we're still going to be committed to the Common Core, but we're now going to have to find an alternative method of assessment. It's premature to get overly concerned about it, but I am a little anxious as to what the next step is going to be."
The governor's announcement did repeat the emphasis on higher standards, and Porter said he wants to stay the course on that, but as the state moves to the new standard, there is a need for a method of assessment.
Still, Porter speculated that Scott's actions may be more bark than bite.
"The big question is, are we going to be abandoning PARCC, or just reassessing our role in it?" Porter said. "Are we pulling out entirely? Or just from our former key role in it? Maybe he's just saying, 'Let's pull back so we can reassess PARCC as well as other alternatives.' I'm fighting the temptation to get too excited too quickly, because I'm thinking there's going to be more information coming."
Key West education advocate John Padget, vice chairman of the Florida State Board of Education, sounded a similar tone when asked about the issue.
"First of all, Common Core isn't a federal mandate, it's an initiative of the National Governors Association," Padget said. "Secondly, the state has also put out an RFP (request for proposals) for a replacement for the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), and it's likely that PARCC will submit a bid, as will others. In other words, at the end of the day, we may end up with PARCC, but we may not be a dominant force behind it as we once were. I don't see anything in the governor's words to suggest that we're going to stop this train that we're on."
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths saw a political motive behind Scott's actions.
"The governor is navigating rough political waters with respect to education," Griffiths said. "But if you're going to have an agreed-upon national standard, it follows that we have to have an agreed-upon national assessment mechanism. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. Florida has a lot invested in these standards, and up until now the state has been a leader. I would encourage individuals who are well-versed on the topic to express their opinion to their elected representatives."