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Florida's vision for the Common Core

Florida is among 45 states currently phasing in Common Core, a new set of standards designed to improve alignment and rigor in preparing students for success in college and careers. Anna Shults, the Florida Department of Education's Deputy Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives, recently visited Jacksonville to demystify Common Core and get feedback on the department's plans for implementation.

"What Common Core is not," she said, "is a national curriculum that ties the hands of teachers. What it is is a set of higher standards to ensure that every child, regardless of the ZIP code they live in, has access to a high quality education that prepares them for college and work."

Florida's timeline for Common Core implementation began last year with kindergarten and expanded this year to first grade. By 2013-2014, Common Core will be implemented in all classrooms and a blended assessment will be used to transition from the FCAT to give teachers and students time to adjust to the higher standards. All students will be given the new higher level assessments in 2014-2015.

Shults stressed that "Common Core is the what not the how," and gives teachers far more opportunity for creativity. She described these keys to understanding what Common Core will mean:
    •    Fewer, clearer and higher expectations that are aligned with what is expected for college and work
    •    Increased rigor in content and application of knowledge
    •    Realistic and practical application for the classroom
    •    Build on strengths of Florida's current Next Generation Sunshine State Standards

Students will have to demonstrate more accountability for their learning, evidence  supporting their work, high-order thinking, peer collaboration and the ability to transfer skills to new experiences.

"These are skills all of you use every day in your jobs, and we need to teach them to our students to prepare them," Shults said to the board of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

Shults' guidance to teachers? She says most teachers already have the passion and skills to reinvent themselves as facilitators of real world learning and innovators in getting students to think outside the box.

Common concerns about the state's implementation center around whether there will be sufficient time and technology for all schools to transition successfully to the new on-line assessments. The good news is the new administration at FLDOE is willing to listen and has invited every superintendent in the state to gather groups of teachers to meet with state officials to surface suggestions and concerns.

According to Florida's new Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, "If we get this right, by 2025 Florida will lead the nation in student achievement and America will regain it's position as a world leader in educating its young people."

Over the coming months, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund will offer more information to help Jacksonville's students, teachers, parents and community members support the path to Common Core.

- Pam Paul