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Hundreds debate Common Core standards at Utah forum

Published April 27, 2012 12:36 pm

Education • Some fear loss of local control, while others say students benefit from rigor.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

After months of debate, worry and frustration, advocates and opponents of Common Core academic standards spent two hours Thursday night jabbing at and defending the standards during a public forum dedicated to the topic.

Hundreds packed the Granite School District board room, offering arguments for and against the standards, which outline skills students should learn in each grade in math and language arts. The standards were developed as part of a states-led initiative in hopes of better readying students for college and careers.

The state school board adopted the standards more than a year and a half ago in a public meeting, but since then controversy has grown, with some worrying that they'll lead to a loss of local control over education.

The state school board agreed during the legislative session to hold the forum at the request of Gov. Gary Herbert, said school board chairwoman Debra Roberts.

Roberts emphasized during the forum that Utah is in no way bound to the standards, legally or financially.

"As individual states, each of us recognized that we weren't where we needed to be," Roberts said of conversations between states' leaders that led to the core's development. "Ironically enough, those conversations were done to stay outside the federal Department of Education."

Roberts then opened up the discussion, saying the board would not answer questions in order to "honor your time and make sure all of you who wish to speak have the time to do that." She said questions would instead be answered on the State Office of Education website.

The crowd of parents, teachers, politicians and leaders of various groups filled the entire two hours.

Oak Norton, an Alpine parent who created the website utahnsagainstcommoncore.com, said state officials can do better than the standards, which he believes were hastily adopted to get money through the federal Race to the Top competition. Utah applied for the money but did not win it.

"It seems like it wasn't really about getting better standards; it was about getting federal money," Norton said, drawing whistles and applause from the crowd.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, also spoke against the standards, saying that because Utah said it would use the core in its application to the federal government for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, the state will eventually be bound to the core in order to get federal money.

State education officials have said in recent months that the waiver application does not bind Utah to the core standards.

A number of parents also rose to speak against the standards, saying Utahns can come up with something better on their own.

"Utah is very brilliant. Utah knows how to educate its children," said parent Ben Soholt, of West Valley City. "We can bring in some outside resources to help us, but we should never be beholden to a federal entity."

And Amy Hahn, an Orem home-schooler, said, "We can teach in our classes differently without giving up our local control."

During the two hours, just as many people rose to speak in favor of the standards.

"I think it's terrific," said David Wiley, a Brigham Young University education professor. "I'm a fan of the process it's gone through, the way you've run everything in the open, coordinating the standards, putting them together."

Logan Toone, who spoke on behalf of the Utah Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Utah Association of Assessment Directors, said such bickering belongs in caucuses, conventions and the Capitol, not in classrooms.

"There are a few in our community who feel the Common Core standards are a threat," Toone said. "By calling for the rejection of Utah Common Core Standards, they have jeopardized our opportunity as educators to provide students with the highest quality standards available today."

Melissa Mendenhall, a sixth-grade teacher at Traverse Mountain Elementary in Lehi, said she's already started teaching to the new standards, and "the depth of knowledge required is extremely great compared to what our students are doing now."

"My students were engaged," she said. "They love the rigor."

After the forum, Roberts called the meeting an "important opportunity" to let both sides express their views.

She said, however, that she wouldn't want to reverse course on the standards.

"I think that the Common Core has done more to transform education in the last three years than anything else that we've done in the nine years I've been on the board," Roberts said.