ORLANDO SENTINEL: Florida Chamber: High education standards key to state’s fiscal future
July 19, 2013
By Mark Wilson Guest columnist
Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
We have come so far since the days when Florida schools wore the dunce cap in national academic rankings.
This year we placed sixth in the prestigious “Quality Counts” state education rankings. Graduation rates are going up despite more rigorous graduation requirements.
And who would have guessed 15 years ago that in 2013 our fourth-graders would finish second in the world on an international reading assessment?
But where we are still is not where we need to be.
Too many high-school graduates require college remediation. Too many are unprepared for career training or even military enlistment.
This is not just a Florida issue.
Despite the high national unemployment rate, millions of jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.
American students are mediocre performers on international assessments in math and science. If you look in the classrooms of today, you can easily envision students in Asia dominating the world of tomorrow.
This is unacceptable and completely avoidable.
It’s why business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce consider the Common Core State Standards a priority.
These challenging standards set the bar at college and career readiness. They prepare all students for a future after high school and level the playing field with the rest of the world.
We have created steppingstones leading to Common Core, and now it’s time to take the last step.
These standards focus on depth of knowledge in key subject areas. For example, they put more emphasis on fractions in the earlier grades because that’s key to understanding algebra.
States and school districts will choose the curriculum to achieve these standards.
Teachers will have more freedom to teach because they can focus on fewer, more meaningful topics. The FCAT will be replaced by assessments that go beyond multiple-choice questions and measure students’ depth of understanding.
Academic experts who have examined Common Core and Florida’s existing standards agree the former are a decided improvement. That is why so many private and parochial schools are adopting them.
We not only will be able to judge our students against each other, but also against students in Massachusetts, Maryland and other high-achieving states.
And so it pains me to see Common Core dragged into the political arena. Some liberals don’t want schools held accountable for higher standards, and some conservatives fear a federal takeover of education.
It would be foolish to back off an accountability system that has served us so well. And to put one plot to rest, states will remain in control of all confidential student data.
We must accept that any undertaking of this magnitude will have its critics, and critics sometimes improve the outcome.
But going back to the drawing board because of that would create confusion, set back our students and families and send the wrong message to all the job creators who hold these standards as essential to being competitive.
I know because Florida not only is the state I love, it is the product I sell to manufacturers, high-tech industries, research institutions and entrepreneurs looking to move, expand or start new businesses to create more jobs.
The competition for them is fierce, and while Florida’s business climate is a huge plus, we need a high-quality public-education system to go along with it.
Common Core is essential for our kids and our state. For freedom to work, educational excellence must be above politics.
It is time to move on.
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