Nobody said elevating the nation’s academic standards would be easy.
Even so, it must have been an uh-oh moment in the Common Core community this week when the Florida Board of Education questioned the state’s readiness for the 2014-15 rollout.
And then Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, one of the nation’s Common Core gurus, called for a Plan B in case the assessments being prepared by a consortium of states aren’t ready. This is like watching the ship Captain preparing the lifeboats.
If any state should be prepared for Common Core, you’d think it would be Florida – the reformer’s Graceland for high standards and accountability. But as crunch time nears, there is growing concern about the ability of teachers and technology to handle the new standards and assessments. My concern isn’t so much Florida. It is what this might say about everybody else.
Cost is a major worry.
The Florida Board of Education requested $400 million for technology devices and upgrades, including more bandwidth capacity. That is a lot of money, even for a state that is a national leader in testing and hasn’t been cheap about funding it. And if Florida has a hard time meeting the technology requirements, consider the impact on states far behind us.
I used to work for a school district. And trust me. We can’t have maintenance crews running fiber optic cable in May 2015. Remember those movies when someone throws a switch and power goes out across the city? Think of billions of gigabytes of algebra hitting insufficient digital capacity at the same time.
Bennett also is concerned about the ability of 22 states in the PARCC consortium to agree on common assessments and common cut scores. The range of states in PARCC goes from Massachusetts to Mississippi.
This is where the goal of rigor will clash with reality in classrooms.
Bennett apparently isn’t convinced it all will be worked out by 2014-15, which is Plan A.
Hence his call for Plan B, just in case.
And I guess the lesson to be learned by other states is this: Get your own Plan B in order.
That we have Common Core assessments up and running smoothly by, say, 2018 is more important than having them sputtering and crashing in 2015 because of a mad dash to the finish line.
Common Core presents one of those rare opportunities where we have political leaders, education leaders, teachers and reformers in something akin to alignment – if not on accountability provisions associated with Common Core, at least on the merits of the standards themselves. In Florida, 85 percent of teachers who attend training sessions like what they are being trained to do.
And that is to teach critical thinking skills and more in-depth knowledge.
Let us cling to this moment.
Implementation issues must be managed so Common Core critics don’t parlay them into deal-killing issues. If so, we’ll never get to 2018.
Interestingly enough, Kentucky already rolled out a Plan B last year. The state developed its own Common Core assessments. And judging by how closely its proficiency rate matches NAEP proficiency, it apparently did a pretty good job. Kentucky did an even better job in preparing everybody for the large drop in scores that accompanied the more rigorous assessments. And somehow, amidst all that, it got the teachers up to speed.
I’m sure Kentucky will share how it did all of the above. This is what we do. We learn from each other.
New York also will have a Plan B in place. It is beginning the transition to assessments based on Common Core this year, in advance of PARCC.
In my mind, if we have the standards in place in 45 states, and teachers prepared to teach them by August 2014, I would declare it a “I’m going to Disney World’’ moment.
Plan B can handle it from there until Plan A is ready.
About the author
Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet
Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at Mike@excelined.org