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Lawmakers continue to hear from Common Core opponents

Published August 15, 2012 7:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lawmakers heard, again, on Wednesday from national speakers about the quality of new Common Core academic standards.

But, again, they only heard from those national speakers opposed to the standards.

"I imagine I could also find someone who would distribute documents who would refute the documents from these individuals," State Superintendent Larry Shumway told lawmakers, referring to anti-Common Core studies handed out before the speakers began their presentation. "This is something where there is not a dearth of documents here arguing both sides."

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper and co-chair of the Education Interim Committee, said after the meeting the presentation only included national speakers against the Common Core because they were the ones who asked to speak and because of committee interest. He noted that Shumway and state school board chairwoman Debra Roberts were allowed to speak after the presentation in order to have the final word.

"I think they gave an important perspective that was missing," Stephenson said of the two national speakers after the meeting. During the meeting Stephenson said to the speakers, "If I were the king of Utah, I would do precisely what you recommended."

What the two speakers — Jim Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute and Ted Rebarber, CEO of Maryland-based AccountabilityWorks — recommended was pulling out of the Common Core. They said doing so would allow Utah to maintain local control over classrooms and ensure students are taught to the highest standards possible. The standards describe the overall concepts students should learn in each grade in order to be prepared for college and careers.

Stergios criticized the standards as "mediocre," saying they will require English teachers to cut back on literature in favor of works such as "federal bank reports" and computer manuals. He also criticized them for waiting until high school to teach Algebra I.

They're allegations state education leaders and Core supporters have refuted for months, saying the Core simply seeks to strike a balance between literature and nonfiction, such as scientific articles and historical documents, not teaching manuals. Also, they say such statements about algebra are incorrect. Really, there will be no more Algebra I because those concepts will be integrated with others and taught starting before high school and throughout high school. Districts will still, however, be allowed to continue to offer Algebra I in junior high or high school as the state transitions, said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent.

Mainly, the two speakers said Utah's adoption of the Core will mean a loss of local control to the federal government — also a point that's been refuted for months. The Core was not developed or imposed by the federal government. And both the U.S. Secretary of Education and the leader of the group of state superintendents that led the Core's development have repeatedly said Utah is not bound to the Core and may change any of it at will. Angela Oakes Stallings, a legislative attorney, confirmed during the meeting that Utah may likely change any part of the Core it wants.

Wednesday's meeting represented the second time this summer lawmakers heard from a panel of national Core opponents only — the first being at a Cheesecake Factory lunch sponsored by a group of local opponents.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said it seems that lawmakers have already heard Core arguments "ad naseum." Osmond said while concerns remain about the Core, he's frustrated that lawmakers are still discussing the merits of adopting it, given that it's already being implemented in Utah schools. He said he wants to hear what can be done now moving forward.

"At the end of the day, we're already down that track, so we can't go back and just start over and throw everything out the window," Osmond said.

Shumway said he and the state school board are open to suggestions about the quality of the standards, but he no longer is interested in arguments over who wrote them. To that end, the State Office of Education is inviting public comment on the specific math and language arts standards through a survey at http://www.schools.utah.gov.