In all the attention surrounding the Common Core hearings Florida is holding this week, it would have been easy to miss a curious exchange at Tuesday’s State Board of Education meeting.
Going into the meeting, some of the most-watched items included a vote on whether or not Florida should extend a safety-net that prevents schools from dropping more than one letter grade at a time (it should, the board voted) and a decision on whether or not to include reading samples in the appendix of the Common Core standards (Florida won’t, said the board).
But it was during a discussion of a communications strategy around the new standards that things took a turn. At one point, the board members and presenters got into a long debate about how to even use the phrase “Common Core.”
The tussle over language was reminiscent of a scene from Waiting for Godot—ambiguous, circular, full of heady themes. (Alternately, depending on your sense of humor, it had a whiff of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First sketches.)
With that in mind, we scripted a few of the more theatrical moments from the meeting. Feel free to give it a dramatic reading of your own:
Scene opens in Tampa. The Florida State Board of Education is gathered in a conference room at a Marriott out by the airport. JOE FOLLICK, communications director for the Florida Department of Education is giving a presentation on communication strategies for Florida’s new education standards. Other players in the room include PAM STEWART, the newly appointed state commissioner of education and KATHLEEN SHANAHAN, board member.
SHANAHAN [piping up as FOLLICK opens the floor to questions] So the teachers that are teaching Common Core in K through 3 right now—what are they going to be told that they’re teaching? Florida standards or high standards or ELA and math?
FOLLICK Yes. [a beat]
These, they… Commissioner?
STEWART [speaking gets louder as the mic turns on] I just would tell you they’re continuing on until such time as this board takes action otherwise, they are continuing as they started this school year
SHANAHAN Teaching Common Core?
STEWART That’s right.
FOLLICK Common Core state standards.
STEWART Well, it, lemme clarify that just a little bit …
SHANAHAN [frustrated laugh] I mean we see the confusion [STEWART tries to interject: let!, let!] that happens so…
I just, that’s why, I’m not, I’m not, I mean we rename it or whatever. … [STEWART continues trying to break in, SHANAHAN keeps talking]
But we’ve got a lot of teachers currently in the state of Florida teaching Common Core standards and training Common Core standard—you know, that you lead all summer. And I think if there’s evolution to a new name, we just need to bring them along so they don’t feel disenfranchised to higher standards.
STEWART [speaking clearly, assertively now that she has the floor] I just want to clarify one thing: it is, it is Common Core state standards that were adopted by this board in July of 2010–in K1 and 2 this year. [SHANAHAN nods along and murmurs agreement] It is a blended course description in 3 through 12. So that we are sure that we are covering the standards that will be assessed on FCAT.
[A few minutes later, still in the conference room]
SHANAHAN [addresses FOLLICK with a very deliberate tone] Are you going to use “Common Core state standards” in your communications plan?
FOLLICK [even more deliberate and slow—as if he’s choosing every word carefully] As the commissioner said earlier, what we’ve done with the flstandards.org website right now is to make sure that we’re gathering comments from the public on the standards that were passed by the board in 2010.
This is step 1 in an effort to then begin explaining what standards mean to the public. I think what we understand standards to mean around this room, and what the public understands them to mean, is a uh, is a different thing. So we’re going to listen to the public over the next three days in person and via the comments we have through the Internet and via email. And then we’re going to assess what their level of understanding is with—not just with the standards adopted in 2010—but the standards outside of that as well. And after we review those comments, we will then be seeing what those needs are. Seeing what needs to be explained what people don’t understand and do understand.
SHANAHAN So is that a “yes” or a “no”? I’m sorry. [frustrated laugh]
FOLLICK It’s a, uh…
STEWART [jumping in] I would suggest it isn’t a “yes” or a “no” and that will be something that will come back before the Board.