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Speaker's education plan takes fire from anti-Common Core crowd

Published February 25, 2014 9:17 pm

States' rights • Opponents ramping up opposition to proposed testing that they see as federal meddling with Utah's curriculum.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Already facing a major uphill battle in the Legislature, new opposition has arisen to House Speaker Becky Lockhart's ambitious push to put technology in the classroom — this time coming from those who are opposing federal meddling with Utah's education curriculum.

The opponents of the so-called Common Core education standards ramped up their opposition to the bill last week, bombarding the bill sponsor with emails blasting the testing requirements in the proposed legislation, calling it "possibly the worst bill of the session."

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, who has worked for weeks with Lockhart on the bill said he received more than 180 emails in just a few hours criticizing the bill for including language requiring uniform student testing to ensure the technology being put in classrooms is working.

The Lockhart-Gibson plan calls for spending $200 million on classroom technology in a quest to put a digital learning device in the hands of each of the more than 610,000 students statewide.

Gibson said the goal is to give teachers a tool, "not to collect data and submit it to the Department of Education."

"The detractors of this bill will do anything they can to distract from that," Gibson said.

Lockhart said Common Core was never a consideration. "We never even talked about Common Core," she said.

Still, the testing language raised red flags among those steadfastly opposed to the Common Core standards — math and language arts standards adopted by Utah and most other states, outlining what skills students should learn to be prepared for college.

Opponents of the Common Core see it as an attempt by the Obama administration and federal government to nationalize education and dictate Utah's curriculum.

Autumn Cook, a mother opposed to the Common Core standards and a member of the Left-Right Alliance For Education, said Gibson's bill is not a major advancement of Common Core, "it's kind of a little piece of it."

"It does tie the mandates [on districts] that are established under this bill to student outcomes in the core curriculum, and of course the core curriculum is Common Core," Cook said.

The testing requirements in the bill, Cook said, are just a way to enforce the Common Core standards.

Gibson said he and Lockhart have a revised version of the bill — which was made public Monday — that removes references to the "core curriculum" and instead measures the success of the program with "student achievement," rate of learning, attendance, graduation rates and other factors.

Even if Common Core wasn't in the bill, Cook said she has concerns about the technology push.

"The fact that it injects technology between teachers and students is a big part of the problem," she said.

A well-trained, qualified teacher is the most important variable in a student's achievement, said Cook, and it's a mistake to put more money into gadgets than teacher training.

"There's just no development that can personalize like a teacher can, and I think we're making a huge mistake to turn to technology more than teachers, especially among the disadvantaged," she said.

Gibson's bill will be up before the House Education Committee Wednesday morning at 8 a.m.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke —

Public hearing

HB131, the $200 million education technology initiative championed by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the House Education Committee at 8 a.m., in the House Building, Rm. 30. It is first on the agenda.