Common Core should be priority for next education commissioner

Odds are pretty good — excellent, in fact — that Tony Bennett will be Florida's next education commissioner.

When it comes to school reform, Bennett was the Jeb Bush of Indiana and has a resume long on Florida-inspired changes he pushed on the Hoosiers to show for it.

Bennett was fired by the people of Indiana last month as that state's elected education chief. He lost the election to a veteran teacher and union leader who ran against him.

So why would Florida want Indiana's runner-up?

Two words: Common Core.

Bennett has been one of the loudest and strongest leaders of the tough new national curriculum standards that are scheduled to take effect by 2015.

Bennett is fluent in Common Core the way Bush speaks Spanish.

And that kind of knowledge and passion will be critical as this state makes the switch to Common Core.

We've seen what can happen when more minor testing changes are made in Florida.

Last year's debacle over the FCAT writing scores was just one example.

The standards for grading the writing test were raised and a lack of communication with teachers and parents set off a statewide panic.

The lower scores brought on by the higher writing standards should have been viewed like an upset stomach brought on by a dose of antibiotics. A lousy side effect, but worth it to get healthy.

Instead Florida fretted over the upset stomach instead of seeing the big picture: Better standards mean students won't be merely literate, but more competitive across the globe.

The switch to Common Core will be like an FCAT change on steroids.

It will change the way teachers teach in Florida. The curriculum. The materials. What students are tested on. All students will be tested on Common Core standards by the 2014-15 school year.

But before you shake your fist at the latest Jeb Bush scheme to takeover education in Florida and burden teachers with more new standards, know this: teachers actually like Common Core. And, for the most part, the unions like it too.

Common Core means that instead of teaching a small amount about a lot of things, teachers will teach more about fewer things. Students should come away with a deeper knowledge about what's important.

For example, research has shown that understanding fractions is critical to understanding algebra. So Common Core calls for fifth graders to spend more time learning fractions.

And much is being made of Common Core's requirement that 70 percent of high school reading assignments be non-fiction. That means no more "To Kill a Mockingbird" or other great works of literature, opponents say. When, in reality, the 70 percent applies across all subjects, meaning English teachers can still teach Shakespeare while math and social studies teachers assign texts related to their subjects.

This sort of consternation is what really hurt Bennett on election night.