DeSantis Orders End of Common Core in Florida

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Local news reports that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has signed an executive order abolishing Common Core in the state.

Tampa Bay Fox Affiliate Fox13 reports:

“One of the things we would constantly hear about on the campaign trail was a lot of frustration from parents in particular with this idea of Common Core,” said Gov. DeSantis. “When you complained… I heard you. I told you I’d do something about it. And today we are acting to bring promises to reality.”

DeSantis gave the order to replace Common Core-type standards with a new system that increases the quality of curriculum, and places a higher emphasis on teaching civics.

Florida education standards will not change this year. Gov. DeSantis said he and Commissioner Corcoran will seek input from teachers and parents, then present a reform plan to the legislature, to enact in 2020.

You may remember that Florida’s academic standards were tweaked and rebranded (Next Generation Sunshine State Standards), but still closely resembled the Common Core State Standards. Time will tell if this will bring a significant change, but it is encouraging to see Governor DeSantis follow through on a campaign pledge.

Read the rest.

Florida Elects Anti-Common Core Governor

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida’s Gubernatorial Race last night by a slim margin: 49.7 percent to 49.1 percent. 

He has criticized Common Core while campaigning for Governor. He tweeted this out in August:

Prior to the Florida primary, Karen Effrem made the following observations about DeSantis here at Truth in American Education:

This is a welcome change from Governor Rick Scott provided he follows through. 

Florida Teacher Who Resigned: “Children Are Not Data Points”

Photo source: PureParents.org

The Orlando Sentinel reported about a teacher’s resignation letter that went viral after she shared it with friends over the summer. 

Leslie Postal writes:

Maren Hicks often jokes that she was “Leo the Late Bloomer,” coming to a teaching career six years out of college. But once in the classroom, she found her passion and fell hard for education’s “noble aims.”

In June, however, Hicks left her teaching job at an Orange County public school after penning a two-page resignation letter that warned “our village is on fire.”

In her letter, Hicks, 36, said she was one of many fed up Orange teachers and urged school district leaders to heed their concerns about standardized testing, burdensome record-keeping and policies that lose sight of the children in their care.

“Children are not data points. Teachers are not cattle herders,” wrote Hicks, who taught at Arbor Ridge K-8 School in east Orange. “Yet, the district maintains an incessant and desperate need to pigeon hole education and goat herd bewildered students through an algorithm of disappointment and forced uniformity.”

Read the rest

Florida High School Principal Takes Books Away From Teacher

The Miami Herald ran a troubling story last week about a high school teacher who had literature textbooks that she purchased carted away because they did not fit with the Florida Standards.

Colleen Wright reports:

Audrey Silverman arrived at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High last week ready to finish “The Necklace,” the English class staple short story about the deceptiveness of appearances and the dangers of martyrdom with her gifted, honors ninth-grade students.

But when the literature teacher entered her classroom Thursday morning, 50 textbooks, including the teacher’s edition with years of annotations Silverman said she personally purchased, were missing from the baskets beneath the students’ desks. A student told Silverman she saw the books carted away the prior evening.

She filed a pre-grievance with her principal, Allison Harley, who in turn, Silverman said, opened an internal investigation into her use of school email. 

Silence dissent through intimidation, yeah, that’s what we want to see in our public schools. 

Wright continues:

Silverman, a 30-year veteran teacher whose scores deem her one of the best teachers in the state, has been using a textbook called “McDougal-Littell Literature” for a decade, although students were using an edition from four years ago. It’s got poems, essays, short stories, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare — a curriculum she says challenges and rivets her students.

But the Florida Department of Education phased out that textbook five years ago and introduced new titles that districts could use. A committee of teachers picked “Collections“ by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a digital textbook that aligns with new Florida standardized tests that heavily emphasize nonfiction and informational texts.

While many schools are making the switch to digital curriculum, this is the first I’ve heard of a school taking away textbooks that a teacher purchased and was currently using. 

Tell me again how state standards don’t impact classroom instruction.

Read the whole article here

Has anyone else heard of this happening in a school?

Education Policy: Where the Florida Gubernatorial Primary Candidates Stand

These guides are NOT endorsements, but layout and rate the Common Core, federal education, preschool and related issues records of the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor of Florida, listed as officially qualified by the Florida Department of State to be on the ballot for the 2018 election, based on reviews of the candidates’ statements on their websites, in the media, at debates, polling data, endorsements, and voting records where available. PDF versions of these tables are available for the Democrats and the Republicans. The Florida Primary will be held on Tuesday, August 28.

Democrat Primary:

Mayor Andrew Gillum

  • Expanded/Supported Federal Intrusion in Education: N/A
  • Supports Common Core: Not mentioned – His supporters oppose CCSS 40%-27%.
  • Opposes High Stakes Testing: Yes
  • Supports Expanded Pre-K: Yes, he wants an expansion of pre-K despite overall research of ineffectiveness and harm.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham

Businessman Jeff Greene

  • Expanded/Supported Federal Intrusion in Education: N/A
  • Supports Common Core: Not mentioned, but his supporters oppose CCSS 46%-33%.
  • Opposes High Stakes Testing: Yes
  • Supports Expanded Pre-K: Yes, he wants two years “mandatory preschool” despite overall research of ineffectiveness and harm.

Former Mayor Phil Levine

  • Expanded/Supported Federal Intrusion in Education: N/A
  • Supports Common Core: Not mentioned, there is no CCSS polling data available.
  • Opposes High Stakes Testing: Yes
  • Supports Expanded Pre-K: Yes, he wants an expansion of pre-K despite overall research of ineffectiveness and harm.

Alex “Lundy” Lundmark

Chris King and Jon Wetherbee had little to no information on their views and plans for these pre-K through 12 education issues and received grades of “Incomplete.”

Republican Primary

Congressman Ron DeSantis

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

Businessman and Activist Bob White

  • Opposes Federal Intrusion in Education: Yes, he clearly understands the lack of constitutionality of the federal role in education and cost to states.
  • Opposes Common Core: Yes, and has led many grassroots efforts against Common Core throughout the state and at the legislature.
  • Opposes Expansion of Government Pre-K: Not discussed.
  • Pro-Common Core Endorsement or Rating: No
  • Anti-Common Core Endorsement or Rating: Former Congressman Ron Paul.

The remaining qualified Republican candidates  Don Baldauf, Timothy DeVine, Bob Langford, John Mercadante, and Bruce Nathan either do not have campaign websites, have no record, or discuss pre-K through 12 education issues minimally, if at all. These five candidates received grades of “Incomplete.”

DeVos on 2017 NAEP Results: “We can and must do better for America’s students.”

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Committee
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos responded to the stagnant nationwide scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) but touted Florida who saw gains in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math scores as a bright spot.

Here is her statement in full:

The report card is in, and the results are clear: We can and we must do better for America’s students. Our nation’s reading and math scores continue to stagnate. More alarmingly, the gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite billions in Federal funding designated specifically to help close it.

One bright spot in today’s report is Florida, where Sunshine State students are bucking the national trend, showing significant improvement in 4th and 8th grade math and in 8th grade reading. Both low and high performers in Florida demonstrated that improvement, again bucking the national trend and narrowing the achievement gap.

Florida leaders, administrators, and, most importantly, teachers are to be commended for their continued efforts on behalf of students. Florida has been at the forefront of bold, comprehensive education reform for decades. From accountability, to literacy, to teacher certification and recognition, to providing parents more freedom to select the learning environment that best fits their students’ needs, Florida is rethinking education.

Florida’s results show what is possible when we focus on individual students. This Administration is committed to working with States and communities across our country to bring about the much-needed change our students deserve.

Many thanks to the professional staff at the National Center for Education Statistics and the members of the National Assessment Governing Board for their work and for their commitment to continually improving NAEP.

Florida saw an improvement from 227 to 228 on the fourth-grade reading assessment. The average score is still below 240 which is the score students need to receive to be deemed “proficient.” 41 percent of Florida’s 4th-graders are considered proficient or above up from 38 percent in 2015.

Florida saw a bigger jump with eighth graders on their reading assessment. They jumped from an average score of 264 to 267. A score of 280 is considered proficient. 35 percent of Florida’s 8th-graders are considered proficient up from 30 percent in 2015.

Florida’s 4th graders saw a larger jump in math with an average score of 243 in 2015 to 246 in 2017 which is a new high for the Sunshine State. Fourth graders are considered proficient if they attain a score of 250 or higher. 47 percent of Florida’s 4th-graders attained that score or higher, up from 42 percent in 2015.

Florida’s 8th graders saw a smaller bump from 281 in 2015 to 282 in 2017. This is still two points below their historic high of 284 attained in 2013. The proficiency benchmark is 300 for the 8th-grade math assessment. Only 29 percent of Florida’s 8th-graders are considered proficient or above up from 27 percent in 2015.

 

Federal Influence on State and Local School-Discipline Policies

Much discussion of the Parkland, Florida school shooting has centered on how the discipline policies of the Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) may have been designed not to make the schools safer, but to make the schools’ statistics on suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement look better. Better to whom? To a great extent, to the federal government during the Obama administration. This tragic case illustrates what tends to happen when the federal government meddles with local or state policies.

In a book Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty that we co-authored with Emmett McGroarty, we detail how the federal government influences or even dictates local policies by various means, including 1) issuing “guidance” that localities are encouraged to implement as if it were legally binding; 2) creating multi-agency initiatives that leverage federal power to force local policy changes; and 3) making grants directly to local entities.

Deeper scrutiny is needed to uncover how all this played out in Broward. But what we do know suggests substantial – and ultimately harmful – efforts to appease the federal government with respect to school discipline.

Federal Influence on State and Local School-Discipline Policies

To identify troubled students and avoid a Columbine-type crime, the Florida legislature adopted a strict “zero-tolerance” law in 2002. The law required schools to report felonies and violent misdemeanors committed by students to law enforcement. During the Obama Administration, the law was amended to reflect new discipline programs and policies encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Reporting requirements for student misdemeanors were loosened.  Unfortunately, had these changes not been made, the Florida shooter would have been arrested long before the tragedy on Valentine’s Day.

Instead of accomplishing what the bill was originally intended to accomplish — keep schools safe by removing criminal students — it appears these amendments did the opposite. They shielded the Florida shooter from law enforcement’s radar screen.

As discussed below, the changes made to Florida’s “zero-tolerance” were most likely prompted by federal policies intended to encourage and incentivize the reduction of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of troublesome students (especially minority and disabled students). An early signal of the new federal policies appeared in the infamous Race to the Top program, which “included a program requirement that districts with students of color or students with disabilities overly represented in the district’s discipline rates must conduct a root cause analysis and develop a plan to address these root causes.”

But the ball really got rolling in July 2011, when two federal departments – USED and the Department of Justice (DOJ) — announced a “collaborative project” called the Supportive School Discipline Initiative. The goal was “to coordinate federal actions to provide schools with effective alternatives to exclusionary discipline [read: suspensions, expulsions, and arrests] while encouraging a new emphasis on reducing disproportionality for students of color and students with disabilities.”

As part of the Initiative, DOJ awarded $840,000 to the Council of State Governments to launch the School Discipline Consensus Project. This sum was matched by private foundations including the NoVo Foundation which, by the way, is a major player in the Social Emotional Learning scheme (teaching attitudes rather than academic content). The goal: “dismantle what is commonly named the ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’” In other words, do everything possible to keep criminal students in school and out of jail.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder also announced efforts to incentivize states and local school districts to demolish the pipeline. One such effort was upgrading data collection to shame school districts with statistics showing their “disproportionate” suspensions/expulsions/arrests of minority students.

USED’s Office for Civil Rights issued The Transformed Civil Rights Data Collection in March 2012. This report showed that black students in BCPS were suspended at a far greater rate than their percentage of the school population (no analysis of why that might be). Shaming accomplished.

The years 2012 and 2013 saw a flurry of federal activity designed to reduce exclusionary discipline and law-enforcement involvement. Projects included federally funded research on the topic, a National Leadership Summit, a webinar series, and creation of a Supportive School Discipline Community of Practice for state leaders. Meanwhile, DOJ funded the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges “to replicate successful school-court partnerships working to reduce referrals to court of students for non-serious behavior.”

In April 2013 the Obama administration released its FY 2014 budget. Included was $50 million for USED to fund a School Climate Transformation Grant, and $20 million for DOJ to fund Juvenile Justice and Education Collaboration Assistance Grants. Also included was $55 million to the Department of Health and Human Services to implement Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education). So three federal departments were being leveraged to pressure schools and courts to work together to create systems for keeping students, including (repeat offenders), in school and out of the juvenile-justice system.

This brings us back to Broward specifically. A few months after the federal budget including all these grants was released, BCPS announced that it was replacing its zero-tolerance policy and developing guidelines more in line with what the federal government wanted. These guidelines evolved into a “Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline” signed by various judicial and law-enforcement authorities – including the now-disgraced Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel – and other interest groups such as the Ft. Lauderdale Branch of the NAACP. The agreement outlined the guidelines designed to minimize involvement of law enforcement in school discipline incidents.

This November 2013 agreement supposedly excluded felonious conduct but included a raft of misdemeanor offenses among those that would be handled by the school: fights, theft, vandalism, criminal mischief, harassment, drug possession, and threats, to name just a few. Only after a fifth offense during a school year would a student be referred to law enforcement.

Two months later, USED’s Duncan and DOJ’s Holder issued a School Discipline Guidance Package to lecture states and school districts about the administration’s preferred practices. As we detail in our book, such guidance usually doesn’t carry the force of law – but its intimidation value can be immense.

BCPS officials probably were confident that with their collaborative agreement, the district was complying with federal instructions. And when Obama’s USED and HHS announced the School Climate Transformation grant program for school districts in early 2014, BCPS was thus strategically positioned to get a chunk of the money.

In its grant application, BCPS bragged about its actions to introduce programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) and other efforts to improve school discipline without punitive measures, as well as its 50% reduction in student arrests. It also touted the Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentors, Interventions, Supports & Education (PROMISE) program, designed to “address the unique needs of students . . . who commit specific non-violent misdemeanors that might normally lead to juvenile delinquency arrest and, therefore, entry into the juvenile justice system.”

In a guidelines tweak by the Broward County Board of Education in April 2014, the Board delineated the following misdemeanor offenses as “PROMISE eligible”: disruption on campus – major; trespassing; alcohol-use/possession/under the influence; alcohol sale/attempted sale/transmittal; drug-use/possession/under the influence; drug paraphernalia-possession; bullying; harassment; fighting – mutual combat; false accusation against school staff; assault/threat medium (no harm or injury); theft – petty < $300; vandalism/damage to property < $1,000. Students committing these offenses would avoid arrest by completing the school’s PROMISE program, including counseling sessions, instruction on how to develop coping skills and pro-social behaviors, and, if necessary, referrals to social services for treatment.

What about the unlucky victims of these “PROMISE” offenders, who were allowed to stay in school and continue to wreak havoc? There was a program for them too. It’s called “restorative justice,” which offers victims and their offenders opportunities for face-to-face-dialogue to establish “consensus-based plans that meet victim-identified needs in the wake of a crime.“

PROMISE was specifically referenced in the November 2013 collaborative agreement and, notably, defended by Sheriff Israel in a February 25 interview with Jake Tapper of CNN. But not every sheriff in town shares Israel’s praise for the program. The president of the Broward County Sheriff Union, Jeff Bell, told Fox News that the PROMISE program was partly to blame for the failure to arrest the shooter for prior offenses: “[It] took all discretion away from the law enforcement officers to effect an arrest if we chose to.”

BCPS’s School Climate grant application dwelled at length on the need to reduce office disciplinary referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. To force the numbers down, BCPS reported, it would use multi-tiered systems of supports such as PBIS as well as something called Elimination of School House to Jail House, a “collaborative made up of . . . administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members advising the District on promoting culturally responsive and non-discriminatory strategies. . . .” In other words, BCPS committed to greatly reduce penalties for criminal behavior.

All the hoops BCPS jumped through to impress the federal government apparently worked. On September 30, 2014, BCPS announced that it had received a $3.7 million grant ($750,000 a year for five years, the largest possible award) to improve school climate. USED announced that some of this grant money would be used to “address the school-to-prison pipeline – the unfortunate and often unintended policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren . . . out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

It’s possible that BCPS would have implemented such policies on their own merits anyway, regardless of federal incentives or veiled intimidation. But a presentation on PROMISE, offered (presumably by BCPS administrators) to the local Board in March 2015, makes clear that federal considerations were paramount. In that presentation, the Board was told in detail about USED’s school-climate and discipline guidelines, including the “guiding principles” that included using suspension, expulsion, and referral to law enforcement only as a last resort, and that warned about possible civil-rights liability for disproportionate disciplinary numbers.

But is any of this connected to the Parkland shooter? At this point, we don’t have a definitive answer. The shooter’s school record, however, is reported to have shown the shooter was classified as disabled, with a diagnosis of autism and other mental disorders. Considering the shooter’s history and the fact that he was enrolled for a period of time at an alternative school, this is most likely true.  Being disabled would have placed him into one of two categories of students (minority and disabled) for which suspensions, expulsions, and arrests were expected to decline under the federal grant programs. As evidence begins to surface showing BCPS and the Broward Sheriff’s Office relied on school-centered options rather than arrest to handle the shooter’s multiple crimes, a connection seems likely.

Failures of the Broward County Public School System

Reports show that BCPS failed to have the shooter arrested despite his involvement in at least 41 disciplinary incidents between 2012 and 2017, including insubordination, profanity, disruption, fighting, and assault. As detailed below, several student accounts detail the shooter’s involvement in more serious incidents (many of them felonies) than what has been reported by BCPS. Despite all this, Broward law enforcement confirmed that the shooter had no criminal record.

In September 2016, two BCPS students who were friends with the shooter’s ex-girlfriend reported to Stoneman Douglas High School Security Specialist Kelvin Greenleaf that he had sent them multiple Instagram posts threatening to kill them (a Class 3 felony). One such post read, “I’m going to get you and I’m going to kill you because you took this person [the ex-girlfriend] away from me. I’m going to kill your family.” No arrest was made. A math teacher who had the shooter in class last year confirmed that the school was well aware of these threats and sent an email to teachers warning that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack.

Fears that the shooter might bring a weapon to school, however, were nothing new to BCPS administrators. A former teacher said that the boy was barred from bringing a backpack to school as far back as middle school and that security personnel had to search him to ensure he didn’t have weapons (a Class 3 felony).

In September 2016, a “peer counselor” reported to Stoneman Douglas High School Resource Officer Scott Peterson (the school officer who failed to enter the school during the shooting) that the shooter told her he engaged in self-harm (cutting his arms and attempting suicide by drinking gasoline) and stated he wanted to purchase a gun. Peterson notified the Sheriff’s Office and social workers about the incident. The shooter’s suicide threat allowed any one of these parties to have him committed under the Baker Act (a law permitting authorities to hospitalize people for mental evaluation). That option, which would have flagged his mental illness on a background check, was rejected. Instead, school officials called a mobile crisis unit to the school, where clinicians determined he was not a threat and advised against hospitalization.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) also investigated the shooter’s cutting incident and plans to purchase a gun (noticing during the investigation the Nazi insignias drawn on his bookbag). The shooter’s mother told the investigators that the he didn’t have guns and that a mobile crisis unit at the school had determined he wasn’t at risk to harm himself or others. The DCF investigator reported that he contacted Peterson regarding the incident, but declined to share information about the incident outside of confirming the shooter was assessed and that hospitalization was not recommended. Based on this information, DCF decided against invoking the Baker Act option.

Had any of these parties used their authority under the Baker Act to have the shooter hospitalized, there is little chance he would have been allowed to purchase a gun.

While the school won’t provide details on why the shooter was expelled last year, citing only “disciplinary reasons,” some students have reported it was because he brought knives to school, while others claim it was for bringing bullets and fighting (bringing a weapon to school is a Class 3 felony). Bear in mind that under the collaborative agreement, he had to have committed multiple serious offenses to be expelled.

Within a week of the shooter’s being expelled, and with no disqualifying record of mental illness, he purchased the AR 15 he used in the shooting.

Failures of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and FBI

By the time the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School occurred, the Broward Sheriff’s Office had received 45 calls regarding the shooter, including at least two warnings that he had threatened to shoot up the school. As The Hill reported, the Sheriff’s Office failed to enter any of this information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  It is unclear whether the collaborative agreement with Sheriff Israel and his cohorts and the assurances made to end the school-to-prison pipeline were considered in the sheriff’s decision not to take action.

Though he had long been a student in the BCPS system, the shooter enrolled in Stoneman Douglas High School in January 2016. Within a few weeks, on February 5, the Sheriff’s Office received a tip from the son of a neighbor of the shooter that the shooter had threatened to “shoot up the school” (a Class 2 felony). That tip was accompanied by Instagram pictures of the shooter with guns. According to press reports, that tip prompted a visit from a Sheriff’s deputy. But instead of making an arrest, the deputy reported his findings to Peterson at BPCS.

The next tips to the Sheriff’s Office came in the fall of 2017. In September, a Mississippi blogger reported to the FBI that someone by the shooter’s name had posted on social media, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” Three reports came in November: the Sheriff’s Office was told that the shooter, whose mother had died, had rifles, and was requested to take possession of the weapons; the Palm Beach County woman who took the shooter in after his mother’s death called 911 to report that the shooter had weapons, was supposedly on his way to a store to buy more, and had been in a fight with her son; the shooter himself called 911 and reported the same fight; and a Massachusetts caller told the Broward Sheriff’s Office that the shooter was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making.”

It’s not known whether any of these tips were transmitted to BCPS. In any event, the shooter was not arrested.

The final tip came in January 2018, when a “person close to [the shooter]” left a message on the FBI’s tip line expressing concern about his possession of guns. The FBI has recently admitted that it failed to follow procedure and notify local law enforcement agencies.

The massacre occurred about five weeks later.

From the first tip to the school in February 2016 until his expulsion in February 2017, the school and Sheriff’s Office were aware of serious concerns about this boy’s stability. What was done about it during that time? Until full access is granted to all of the shooter’s school records, it’s impossible to say. Given the voluminous documentation about BCPS’s federal-friendly policies – don’t suspend, don’t expel, don’t involve law enforcement – it seems plausible that the shooter was undergoing PROMISE or some other “positive behavior” system at the school.

What is to be concluded from this sorry tale? It’s always dangerous to jump into such a dispute when emotions are so raw, but a few conclusions can be drawn.

One: The federal government established a policy to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping troublesome students in school and out of jail. Two: Several federal agencies collaborated to leverage educational efforts, formal guidance, and federal money to incentivize states and local districts to implement this policy. Three: BCPS took bold steps – including entering into an agreement with law-enforcement and judicial authorities – to implement the policy, as a result of which it was awarded several million dollars in federal funding. Four: BCPS was proud of its reduction in contacts with law enforcement after implementing the collaborative agreement and had committed to USED through the School Climate grant to keep those numbers down.

Five: A boy with a long history of disturbing behavior throughout his time at the school murdered 17 students.

Federal interference in state and local policy is harmful and unacceptable in all circumstances, usually for reasons of polity and liberty. But in this case, it appears it contributed to something even worse. If Florida’s 2002 “zero-tolerance” laws hadn’t been amended to adopt preferred federal policies, BCPS would have been compelled to refer the shooter to law enforcement years before the murders. If BCPS hadn’t been angling for federal money, it might have been less tolerant of his criminal misconduct.

But the bottom line is this: These policies allowed the shooter to avoid arrest or commitment, and to retain the clean record he needed to purchase a gun.

School districts with similar policies should take notice. And they should retake control over their discipline policies – even if it means defying the federal government.

Florida House and Senate Bill Allows Schools to Write Own Academic Standards

Florida’s Historic Capitol and Current State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, FL.
Photo Credit: Michael Rivera (CC-By-SA 3.0)

A bill filed in the Florida House and in the Florida Senate allows Florida school districts to write their own standards provided they are equivalent to or better than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Florida’s current standards which the bills would make the minimum baseline were the product of a review and revision of the Common Core State Standards.

Essentially, the revisions made stayed with the 15 percent threshold allowed by the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. They did put cursive back in their standards, and the Florida State Board of Education in 2013 rejected the Common Core appendices.

Even so, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are still functionally Common Core just like every other state we’ve seen pursue the “review and revise” method of addressing them.

State Representative Charlie Stone (R-Ocala) introduced House Bill 825 in the Florida House. The co-introducers are State Representatives Stan McClain (R-Belleview) and George Moraitis, Jr. (R-Fort Lauderdale). The Florida Senate companion bill Senate Bill 966 was introduced by State Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) and it is co-introduced by State Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach).

The bill says a school district’s standards must “(b)e equivalent to or more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, or courses offered in the district for the International Baccalaureate program. Instructional materials adopted pursuant to these standards must be consistent with school district goals and objectives and the course descriptions established in rule by the State Board of Education.”

It also reads:

Curricular content for all subjects must integrate knowledge-based learning, critical-thinking, and problem-solving, and workforce-literacy skills; communication, reading, and writing skills; mathematics skills; collaboration skills; contextual and applied-learning skills; technology literacy skills; information and media-literacy skills; and the demonstrable, in-depth understanding of the founding values and principles of the United States as required by s. 1003.42

The bill states all standards whether the school adopts the state’s current standards or adopts higher ones they must meet the following requirements:

(a) English Language Arts standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language which significantly improves student outcomes.

(b) Science standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.

(c) Mathematics standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, number and quantity, functions, and modeling.

(d) Social Studies standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, geography, United States and world history, government, civics, humanities, and economics, including financial literacy. Financial literacy includes the knowledge, understanding, skills, behaviors, attitudes, and values that will enable a student to make responsible and effective financial decisions on a daily basis. Government and civics content must strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States as required under s. 1003.42. Financial literacy instruction must shall be an integral part of instruction throughout the entire economics course to and include the study of at least Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories, in addition to understanding the basics of information regarding earning income; buying goods and services; saving and financial investing; taxes; the use of credit and credit cards; budgeting and debt management,including student loans and secured loans; banking and financial services; planning for one’s financial future, including higher education and career planning; credit reports and scores; and fraud and identity theft prevention.

(e) Visual and performing arts, physical education, health, and foreign language standards must establish specific curricular content and include distinct grade level expectations for the core content knowledge and skills that a student is expected to have acquired by each individual grade level from kindergarten through grade 5. The standards for grades 6 through 12 may be organized by grade clusters of more than one grade level.

Here are the reporting requirements the bill gives:

The district school superintendent shall annually certify to the department that all instructional materials for core courses used by the district are aligned with all applicable state standards, including those that are equivalent to or more rigorous than the applicable state standards or are aligned with courses offered in the district for the International Baccalaureate program; and have been reviewed, selected, and adopted by the district school board in accordance with the school board hearing and public meeting requirements of this section.

The bill does not explicitly give the state the authority to reject the annual certification or whether or not they can determine whether a school’s standards are in fact higher.  There could be an administrative rule that does, but I don’t see any language indicating that in this bill.

Should the bill pass it would go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Note: I’ve reached out to State Senator Mayfield’s office for background on the bill, as well as, Karen Effrem with the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition to get her thoughts on this bill. I’ll update when I have additional information.

Update: Sue Woltanski, a parent in Florida told me she suspected the bill had to do with Hillsdale College’s Classical Curriculum. She wrote to me in an email, “The economic theories mentioned (the study of at least Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories), I believe, is a priority of Hillsdale College. Our House Speaker (Corcoran) and a few legislators (specifically Rep.. Donalds) are closely tied to Classical Charters, associated with Hillsdale. “

Karen Effrem also got to me. “The purpose is to allow districts to write their own standards with the Common Core as the floor instead of the ceiling. So they use what they want if anything from Common Core, but still, give the appearance of using CC so as not to get the state’s or feds’ undies in a twist about rejecting the standards,” she said in an email.

Social-Emotional Learning Is Good for the Economy?

This propaganda piece on the website of the CBS affiliate in Miami, FL prompted a visceral reaction from me.

Knellee Bisram, a Certified Mindfulness Instructor and Founder of AHAM Education, Inc., wrote the propaganda supplied by the Children’s Services Council of Broward County.

It reads in part:

It behooves those of us who are parents, educators, community leaders engaging in the SEL front to make the obvious but often forgotten bottom-line economic case to education administrators and local government officials. In the long term, the SEL positively impacts performance and human capacity, an important ingredient for productivity and employment and, by extension, Real Gross Domestic Product Growth.

Look no further than major corporations like Google, SAP, AIG, JPMorgan Chase and our own Miami Heat, who are investing in in-house Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness Based Leadership and similar employee programs because they see clearly that it makes good “dollars and cents”. Business leaders got the memo – mental and emotional stability is perhaps the most important factor in peak performance and success. This is the same reason the Bhutan government has placed human happiness at the center of measuring economic growth by replacing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with Gross National Happiness (GNH) as their country’s main indicator of economic and social wellbeing!

I wasn’t sure whether to throw-up or laugh hysterically at this. Are we to take our lead from Bhutan? Bhutan? Really? I don’t think so.

To top it off, the Children Services Council of Broward County (an independent taxing governmental authority) then supplied a picture of children doing some sort of meditation. Seriously? (Can you imagine the outrage if it were a picture of kids praying?)

Anyway, I read lots of claims in this piece with no evidence offered, but readers are assured these practices are “evidence-based.”

Do you know what would help boost kids’ self-esteem and happiness in school? Being able to understand math and to read well. Do you know what would help our economy down the road? Graduates being able to understand math, be well read, be able to write well, and who have a well-rounded education.

Unfortunately, SEL nor Common Core will help with either. Kids will still struggle, but hey they’ll feel happier doing it.

More From The Mother-May-I File


Politico highlighted three states seeking a testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) yesterday in their Morning Education daily update.

Florida, Kentucky and New Jersey are all asking federal officials for flexibility when it comes to testing in their plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Florida and New Jersey both want more wiggle room for a provision of the law that allows eighth-grade students enrolled in advanced math to avoid “double testing,” letting them take an advanced math test for accountability and avoid taking their grade-level test. In a waiver request, New Jersey says it wants to extend that rule to lower middle school grades, not just eighth grade. “Since so many New Jersey middle school students have been successful in advanced-level mathematics coursework, it is in the best interest of students to administer end-of-course mathematics assessments that align with students’ coursework rather than the grade-level exam,” the state says in its request.

— Florida says in its waiver request that it wants to do the same, in addition to including science tests. The state is also asking for flexibility on how it tests English-language learners. POLITICO Florida reported early last month that the state wants an expansive waiver from federal requirements in order to preserve a school grading system developed under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

— Kentucky is seeking a waiver of an ESSA provision that caps at 1 percent the number of students with disabilities that states can test on alternate assessments.

I thought ESSA was supposed to do away with the need for waivers?

I guess not.