By Katherine Rosenberg
Florida's State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday morning to amend the Common Core State Standards, a move that opponents said won't end the debate over the educational benchmarks.
"The standards go into place, and next month we expect to have the assessment in place," said Joe Follick, spokesman for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's office, noting that 100 amendments -- the big changes including cursive handwriting and calculus curriculums -- have been added to the standards adopted in 2010.
"It will become clear that it's really about making sure our children are set up for success in college and career. Teachers have embraced these standards and hopefully after (the vote) we can focus on what this means for kids."
But hours after the meeting, held at the Orange County School District offices in Orlando, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, a statewide organization that seeks to stop the implementation of the standards, launched a new initiative with a website that will allow visitors to automatically send an email to Stewart, Gov. Rick Scott and local legislators requesting that they "co-sponsor and support legislation to Stop Common Core in Florida during the 2014 session."
The organization believes the standards and assessments are "experimental," "remove local control of education" and the standards are "substandard," according to its website.
"The vote result was expected by all the activists, but we were there just to send a message that this is not the end for us," said Naples parent and Common Core opponent, Erika Donalds, who hopes the movement to get legislators involved will ramp up between now and when the legislative session begins March 4.
Donalds said the State Board of Education members are in volunteer, appointed positions and they are not as responsive to citizens as elected officials can and will be to their voting constituents -- a theme reiterated in many of the public comments at Tuesday's meeting.
"Between now and March 4, I would like to see hundreds, if not thousands, of emails coming from website to the Governor, the Commissioner and representatives, so they see what kind of opposition there is inside their communities," Donalds said.
She said many busy parents are against Common Core, but don't know where to begin to influence a change. Florida Stop Common Core Coalition will provide a means to take action, she said, adding they also plan to unleash a united front statewide, with bumper stickers, yard signs, pamphlets and information sessions.
"It's going to be a huge movement, beyond just the activists who have been involved thus far, but with regular people, regular voters," Donalds said.
For Lee County Superintendent Nancy Graham and Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton, the vote gives districts a clear course for the future.
"I got the sense today that this decision was made for the long term," Graham said. "There's been this cloud hovering over us while we were unsure if the standards we've been using would remain ... We have standards to work with now, this is our road map and we can move forward with confidence."
Graham said the changes, such as adding cursive writing to the third grade curriculum, only reaffirm that these are meant to be standards that can be relied upon for some time. Over the course of several months and many public meetings, the Department of Education amassed 19,000 comments from Floridians who wanted to give their input on the standards, resulting in what Follick called the most widely-vetted and publicly reviewed standards he's aware of.
"I think what they did today was a reflection of all the meetings they had, and that's an indicator that they heard what the academic concerns were and tried to address them," Graham said. "I think no changes would have suggested no one was listening to all those comments."
Still, the changes only bolster existing standards, which are aligned with Common Core, and opponents say they don't do anything to reverse the mess of Common Core. Although the outcome may have felt predetermined to many public speakers, that didn't stop them from lining up for their two minutes in front of Board Chairman Gary Chartrand and other members as well as Stewart.
Stewart put focus on wanting the changes to encompass what should be known uniquely as Florida Standards. She is expected to reveal her choice for the assessment meant to measure student success with these standards before the board's March 18 meeting. Stewart addressed the board before public comment was opened to explain that Common Core could not be undone by not voting to incorporate the amendments. Stewart wanted attendees to be clear that Tuesday's vote was only about some 100 amendments to the current standards and nothing more.
"It is very important to note that the vote before you is to make the recommended changes or to leave the standards as they have been taught for the past 2 1/2 years," Stewart said. "It is not about the content of the other standards."
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