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Florida Fires Company Building Common-Core Website

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As 2014 draws near for the implementation for Common Core State Standards, states are pushing aggressively to prepare students and teachers for the new curriculum, often looking to consultants outside the government.

In Florida, preparation efforts for the new standards are getting ugly. This week, the state education department terminated a $20 million contract with Infinity Software Development, a Tallahassee-based technology and consulting company hired to build an educational website for students and teachers in advance of the common standards. The education department, which entered into the contract in December 2011, reportedly spent nearly $2.5 million on the project already, the Associated Press reported.

The termination comes soon after Infinity filed a lawsuit against Interim Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, charging that her agency violated the terms of the contract.

Florida hired Infinity to build a website that would feature mini-assessments and lessons aligned with the common standards and Florida's Next Generation standards, adopted by the state in 2007 as standards in reading and language arts, according to an education department letter dated Oct. 3, 2012. The contract schedule required Infinity to provide tutorials for high school biology, English/language arts, civics, and math by October 2012 to help students prepare for testing in these subjects during the 2012-2013 school year.

But letters between the department and the company reveal a rocky relationship. The Oct. 3 letter, sent by the department to Infinity President Jon Taylor, accuses the company of being six months behind the schedule for providing the up-to-standards educational website to prepare students for "high stakes testing" set to begin this year.

The lawsuit filed on Oct. 22, 2012 by Infinity, however, claims the department did not review and approve the company's work in a timely manner. The department was given five days to approve or request modifications to Infinity's work, as were the terms of the contract, and "failed almost entirely" to meet the deadline, according to the legal complaint.

The schedule wasn't the only point of contention. In the Oct. 3 letter, the department said Infinity "thwarted" efforts to "foster an environment of cooperation and support." In his Oct. 15 response, Taylor wrote that those accusations were "inaccurate and offensive."

There are also charges of "significant factual and procedural errors" by Infinity. For example, one civics lesson suggested a discussion on the meaning of "the pursuit of happiness" in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, ignoring the fact that phrase is actually found in the Declaration of Independence, the department said. In an Oct. 15 letter, Taylor said the phrase was included as a philosophical ideal related to the founding of the country, as a part of an activity where students draw comparisons between the Declaration and the Constitution.

He said that lesson was discussed with the state in April. "That you've apparently forgotten this, and are providing this as an example of Infinity's failure to perform, is troubling," Taylor wrote.

While the state has now officially severed ties with the company, it remains to be seen how it will prepare schools for the rigorous curriculum. And as states across the country steamroll ahead to meet the common standards, it's likely that Florida will not be the only one to face disputes like this one.

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