Senate Republicans concerned about new academic standards
State education leaders decided last year to adopt new academic standards in an effort to better prepare students for college and the work force.
But now some lawmakers want State Board of Education members to reconsider adopting those standards out of concern that Utah might be losing some local control over education by doing so.
The Senate Majority Caucus passed a motion Tuesday asking the House Majority to join it in sending a letter to the state board asking it to reconsider adopting the new standards in place of Utah's current ones, said Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser. The standards outline the concepts students should learn in each grade in math and language arts.
"We're dropping Utah's moral and ethical standards in favor of a more national [set], and I don't like it," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He also said he was concerned that the new standards contain "code words for socialism." And he's concerned because states that signed on to the standards got additional credit in the federal Race to the Top competition for federal cash.
"We've got a pig in a poke," Buttars said. "We don't know what we've got a hold of, yet we've been committed to it."
Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the caucus mostly was concerned about making sure Utah has control over its standards.
"We want to be able to reflect in our core standards what we teach in Utah, what Utah wants to teach and not what people from other places want to teach," Niederhauser said. "That might match up in a lot of ways, but we want to be able to have control over that."
State board member Dave Thomas, however, said the standards, known as Common Core State Standards, do not promote socialism and Utah is not ceding control by adopting them.
"I think there's a misunderstanding that somehow the Common Core are federal standards," Thomas said. "They're not federal standards."
Instead, the standards were the result of a states-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to help get states on the same page academically. Now, each state decides when to teach what concepts, leading to confusion for students who move and making state-to-state comparisons difficult.
It's been up to each state to decide whether to adopt the standards. So far, 40 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decided to adopt them. The state board plans to implement them in Utah over the next few years.
"If these ever become federal standards," Thomas said, "the state board will abandon them because we don't want the federal government to tell us what our standards should be."
But Thomas said the board adopted the standards to improve education in Utah.
"We did an analysis to see if these standards were better standards than what we had and they were superior standards," Thomas said.
According to a July report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the new language arts standards are superior to Utah's current ones, and the new math standards are about on par with Utah's current ones.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes said Tuesday evening he had not yet heard enough about the motion to comment.