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Common Core foes meet with guv, lawmakers, public

First Published Jul 10 2012 10:40 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 11:31 pm

The nation’s top education official says it’s not true.

State education leaders say it’s false.

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And the governor does not believe Common Core academic standards are bad for Utah or mean a loss of local control.

But a group of Utah conservatives are determined to show that despite all those assurances, the Common Core is part of a federal takeover of education from which Utah will not be able to escape. And powerful people in Utah are hearing them out.

The governor met with a group of Common Core foes Monday afternoon. The group, the Utah Education Coalition, then bought lunch for at least a dozen lawmakers, including some legislative leaders, to whom they also preached their points, on Tuesday. The coalition is led by Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, and made up of a number of conservative groups including the Utah Eagle Forum, Standard of Liberty and the Salt Lake County Republican Assembly.

Four national Common Core opponents, invited to Utah by the group, spoke to the lawmakers Tuesday afternoon during the private lunch, which a Salt Lake Tribune reporter was not allowed to attend. They then spoke Tuesday evening at a public event in Sandy, attended by a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds that included a number of lawmakers.

"I don’t think that national education is a good idea," said Alisa Ellis, a parent who organized Tuesday’s public event. "In the Constitution, it doesn’t give the federal government the authority to run education."

The four speakers touched on a number of points Tuesday evening that state Common Core opponents have been trumpeting for months: they believe the standards represent an overreach of the federal government; they believe the decision to adopt standards should have been made by the state Legislature, not the state school board; and they believe the new standards are inferior to Utah’s current ones.

"This is really a constitutional issue," said speaker Emmett McGroarty, with the American Principles Project, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based organization. "This is really about whether or not we are going to stand and defend the Declaration and the Constitution."

Their points, however, have been refuted for months by state education leaders.

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State education leaders have long said they adopted the standards, which outline the skills students should learn in each grade in math and language arts, because they are more rigorous than Utah’s current ones. A 2010 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found the Core’s language arts standards to be superior to Utah’s and it gave the Core’s and Utah’s math standards equally high grades.

Also, at its most basic level, the Common Core is simply not a federal program.

The federal government did encourage states to adopt the standards as they applied for federal Race to the Top grant money, but Utah did not win that money.

The standards were developed as part of a states-led initiative. They were voluntary to adopt. Both state and federal leaders have confirmed that Utah is in no way bound to them.

"We are all for reliable constructive debate," said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent, of some opponents’ arguments, "but when you get into inaccurate, misleading or speculative information, it makes an honest debate difficult."

Still, one of the speakers at Tuesday’s event, Kent Talbert, former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, said even if the federal government’s involvement in the Core has been indirect, all the things it has done related to the Core are collectively leading to a national curriculum.

In many cases, the speakers Tuesday night were preaching to supporters, with their statements earning wide applause. But lawmakers who heard a similar presentation earlier that day were somewhat divided.

Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, R-American Fork, said after the lunch he is against the Common Core, for many of the reasons the speakers outlined. Others, however, such as Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he has a number of concerns about the Core, but feels Utah "went into this pretty much with our eyes open." Still others, such as Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said she wasn’t swayed and supports the Core.

Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said the governor does not plan to take any action regarding the Common Core. She said the gathering Monday was a "courtesy meeting" held at the group’s request because Herbert "listens to all sides on any given issue."

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