Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning is standing by the Common Core State Standards, despite a recent decision by Gov. Rick Scott to put the kibosh on the state’s participation in a consortia developing assessments for those standards.
Scott sent a letter to federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Sept. 23 telling him that he would ask the State Board of Education to end Florida’s fiscal relationship with the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers.
Scott said the move was intended to protect the state from federal intrusion into education policy, and a parade of lawmakers and educators applauded Scott’s action.
Browning did not.
“It’s all political,” Browning said. “He’s getting a lot of pressure and he’s running for re-election.”
Browning added that Scott is trying to make sure that he has the support of the tea party, a populist movement within the Republican party that opposes the Washington political establishment. Scott was backed by the tea party when he won the governor’s office in 2010.
Florida needs a different way to measure its students’ progress, Browning said.
“Florida cannot afford to go back to another homegrown assessment,” Browning said.
The superintendent’s comments followed a talk he gave about the Common Core State Standards to more than two-dozen members of the Republican Club of Central Pasco.
Browning made it clear that he stands behind the Common Core State Standards.
“We need to be able to have a set of standards that engages kids, that gets them to think and not only to get them to give the right answer, but how they came up with that answer,” Browning said. “That, in large part, is what Common Core is.”
There’s a perception that Common Core is being driven by the federal government, Browning said. But that isn’t true. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers led the effort to develop standards, he said.
There are three basic components to Common Core State Standards, Browning said. Those components are the standards themselves, the assessments to measure student performance and the data collection.
Critics are lumping all three of those elements together.
“The standards are the standards,” the superintendent said.
There’s also a misconception about what the standards are, he said. The standards are not curriculum. Curriculum is developed and delivered at the local level.
The standards provide the foundation for the curriculum and establish what students need to learn. They do not prescribe how students should be taught, Browning said.
A new set of tests will be used to measure student performance. Regardless of what test is used, there will need to be some sort of assessment.
Common Core State Standards are intended to raise the bar for students and prepare them to compete in a global economy.
“Gov. Bush just made a comment this week that summed up exactly the way I feel about Common Core,” Browning said, adding he echoed those statements in a letter he sent to Scott. “Gov. Bush said, ‘If you’re ok with mediocrity, fine. I’m not,” Browning said.
“What our current standards really encourage our kids to do is memorize and regurgitate. Common Core is calling for kids to think critically,” Browning said.
Pasco County needs improvement.
“Look at our FCAT scores. Look at our reading scores. Look at our math scores. Look at our science scores,” he said. “They’re abominable. They really are.”
Pasco is ranked 34th out of 67 school districts, and that’s something that has to be improved, he said.
“I am tired of the Pasco district playing second fiddle to other districts in the state,” Browning added.
Teachers have a difficult job, he said.
“We’re getting kids in school that don’t know their alphabet. They don’t know simple words. We’re having to get these kids up to grade level,” Browning said.
About 450 third-graders each year are held back in Pasco County because they cannot read at grade level. Some of those students are held back twice, Browning said.
“When a third-grader is retained two times, you can pretty much write them off,” he said. And while the district doesn’t actually write them off, those children face an uphill battle.
“They’re older, they see their peers moving forward. They begin to think that they’re stupid, they can’t learn,” Browning said. “They’re taller than other third-graders. They don’t fit.”
Common Core State Standards are not a new idea, Browning said.
“This has been going on for like six years,” he said. “There were public hearings. There was time for input. There was all this time for public involvement.”
People who want to learn more about Common Core should research the issue, he said. But when they do, he advised that they make sure the websites are reliable.
“With all due respect to radio talk show hosts, that is not a good place to get information from,” Browning said.
Hugh Townsend, who was attending the Republican club’s meeting, said uniform standards are a good idea, particularly in a mobile society. The military has already demonstrated that.
“They’ve already proven that this system works, migrating children around and getting the same outcome of a well-educated, thinking student,” Townsend said.
Alison Crumbley, a Pasco County school board member, said she knows from personal experience about different standards used in different school districts.
“I moved from Chicago in the third grade. I came into third grade. I was put in the sixth-grade reading classes at the time,” Crumbley said.
The disparity in educational opportunities was one of the things that motivated her to seek a seat on the school board, Crumbley said.