From assigned reading to student health, the material taught to students during their formative years is a subject of constant debate among government officials, education professionals, parents and the students themselves. The Florida Department of Education is working toward instituting a new set of academic standards, and community members recently had the opportunity to offer their opinions on the changes.
Leading with the slogan “Success Is Our Standard,” the 2021 Standards Listening Tour kicked off on June 1 in Miami-Dade County. It then traveled to Osceola County on June 3 and ended in Baker County on June 9.
Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools Jacob Olivia presented the new standards, and then the floor opened to anyone who wished to speak. Each speaker had two minutes to express their thoughts to both the Department of Education and the other community members at the event.
“The listening tour gives the public an opportunity to share their thoughts on the standards, and I encourage them to participate,” stated Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.
Dr. Debra Pace, the school district superintendent in Osceola County, attended the tour when it visited Tohopekaliga High School. She told the Florida Political Review that while only three people opted to comment publicly, many others shared their thoughts via online comment cards.
“There are some people who are not comfortable with public speaking, but it doesn’t mean that their opinion does not matter,” Pace stated.
Pace also noted that many of those attending were educators.
“[Educators] were concerned with making sure we were building thoughtfulness into the standards… critical thinking, those types of things,” she said.
The proposed changes for public input include revised standards for civics and government, English language arts, Holocaust education, character education, and substance use and abuse.
The final stop of the listening tour was live-streamed on The Florida Channel. Many speakers commended the Department of Education for instituting the new Holocaust standards.
The Holocaust standards may be the result of a study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany last year. Florida was ranked as one of the states with the lowest Holocaust Knowledge Scores among students and young adults.
Additionally, an email correspondence released in 2019 revealed that the principal of a South Florida high school refused to admit the Holocaust was a factual event.
Both of these reports may have urged the Department of Education to require more in-depth Holocaust education in public schools.
On the other hand, many speakers had qualms about the changes in the civics and government standards. One after another people approached the podium, and the vast majority expressed a very similar complaint: the new civics and government standards present American history in a way that glosses over issues of slavery and race relations.
Antonio White, the first vice president of the United Teachers of Dade attended the tour in Miami-Dade County. He used his speaking opportunity to point out that the revised civic standards never mention the word slavery.
“It is a glaring omission to leave slavery out of civic standards,” White stated.
Wells Todd, a parent from Jacksonville, spoke out in Baker County saying, “All our children know about Dr. [Martin Luther] King is that he wrote a speech called ‘I have a dream.’ Dr. King was more than that.”
Though Florida Statutes require education about African American history, people attending the tours say it’s not enough. Many are pushing for the inclusion of critical race theory, or the study of the intersection between race and law.
Critical race theory has been the subject of much controversy after the Florida Board of Education banned the teaching of critical race theory in public schools last week with support from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Also included in the new changes are “access points,” which are alternative English language arts and mathematics. Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T) standards are for students with the “most significant cognitive disabilities.”
The access points will include three levels of complexity based on the student and his or her individual needs. The levels are participatory, supported and independent, with participatory being the least complex.
So far, the revision process has included two public surveys along with the listening tour. Work groups will reconvene shortly to review the latest feedback and make final revisions, and then the final proposed standards will be posted by the end of June.
Corcoran emphasized the importance of feedback in drafting these revisions.
“This transparent process is essential to ensure that Florida students get a world-class education that prepares them for future academic and life success,” he stated.
Voting on the rule amendment will be considered by the State Board of Education on July 14. Assuming all standards are eventually adopted, they will be slowly implemented, beginning this summer and finishing in 2024.
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Featured Image: Florida Department of Education Building. Unmodified image courtesy of Woodring Law Firm. (https://bit.ly/3gPQOvw).