by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ron DeSantis continues to win cultural battles that most Republicans preemptively abandon or, worse, don’t even know exist. This is especially so in the area of education. Over and above signing the widely discussed Parental Rights in Education bill, DeSantis vetoed an action-civics bill when few Republicans understood what action civics even was. He laid out a far-reaching program of higher-education reform when most Republican governors avoid the subject. And he went after the higher-education establishment’s politicized abuse of accreditation agencies, provoking pushback from the Biden administration. (There was little to be gained politically by taking on the obscure but crucial issue of accreditation, yet DeSantis did it anyway.) Remarkably, however, what may be DeSantis’s most important education achievement is still barely known, although it’s two years old.
In 2020, DeSantis effectively repealed and replaced Common Core, making Florida likely the only state to have truly rid itself of this albatross after having fully adopted it. This was not the deceptive rebranding undertaken by many governors after the public soured on Common Core. No, DeSantis created genuinely new, high-quality reading and math standards, and they are now arguably the best such standards in the country. DeSantis’s rigorous math standards shed the lax and “fuzzy” new-age approach favored by Common Core, while his reading standards restored classic literature to its proper place at the center of the English curriculum (while giving local school districts plenty of scope to fill in the details).
DeSantis’s Florida English language arts (ELA) and math standards ought to stand as national models, now that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror and periodic statewide tweaking of education standards has begun to kick in. Yet a zombified Common Core lurches on. We see the problem in Georgia, where newly revised English standards not only fail to break decisively with Common Core, but purge great literature even more thoroughly than it was purged before.