'Can I opt out of Common Core?' some parents ask educators

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SARASOTA - As schools on the Suncoast move toward what are Common Core standards, educators say that protests based on misconceptions complicate the process. Common Core is a set of benchmarks that students should reach at yearly grade levels that 45 states, including Florida, and the District of Columbia have adopted.

The Republican Party of Sarasota County has passed a resolution opposing Common Core, even though Governor Rick Scott supports the new standards. "The core concern that you have from the grassroots members is, is there going to be federal overreach into the education system?" asks Joe Gruters, Chairman of the County GOP, which sent supporters an email asking them to sign an online petition against Common Core.

Educators say that the federal government, other than encouraging states to adopt the standards, has no role in putting them in place. "It's a roadmap, it's a path, it's a guide," says Sue Meckler, Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Sarasota County Public Schools. Common Core standards establish, "what we need to teach, not how we need to teach," she says.

Many conservative bloggers have railed against what they call the data-mining element of the standards. "People don't like the fact that their students are being asked to fill out surveys about what's going on in their homes," says Gruters.

While some states using Common Core do collect basic information about students, PolitiFact.com, in debunking a claim about data mining in Georgia, says its research showed that recording and tracking students' personal information is not part of Common Core. Sarasota County has no plans to do it here, Meckler says. But such fears, however unfounded, bring calls from concerned parents, "saying, 'how do I opt out of common core?'" Meckler says. "It's becoming a challenge because our teachers are facing the same questions."

She tries to explain what the standards do -- and do not -- entail, and Gruters concedes that misconceptions about local districts losing control of their curriculum to federal bureaucrats do prevail among their opponents. It is difficult for him to speak forcefully in favor of the any part of Common Core, because the issue has proved so effective at firing up the GOP's conservative base. "But at the end of the day, what I think is going to happen is I think we're going to to take what's best from common core," he says. "I think Florida's going to put its own spin on it and re-brand it and essentially come out with a much better program that will meet Florida's specific needs."