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Utah parent ‘curriculum cops’ don’t want the job

First Published      Last Updated Mar 18 2014 10:07 pm

Brad Caldwell took a week off work. Alyson Williams had to recruit four babysitters to care for her children. Amy Farnsworth lived away from her Vernal family for a week.

The 15 volunteer parents who spent a week last year reviewing 10,000 Utah test questions were suddenly — in the last minutes of the 2014 Legislature — handed a far broader job: investigating complaints from parents about curriculum and materials used statewide.

SB257 sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said his idea was to ease some Utah parents' fears about the state's new academic standards, which are based on Common Core State Standards.

"I believe there's so much mistrust with Utah's core and instructional materials that to have that same parent panel review those things would be beneficial in getting to the bottom of it," Stephenson said.

But at least some of the volunteer parents want Gov. Gary Herbert to veto the bill.

They say they don't feel they have the time to review complaints on top of test questions, and some feel it's not their place.

Caldwell, a committee member from Clearfield, said on Monday he jokingly sent the governor's office a $100,000 invoice for consulting services based on the demands of the bill.

Williams, from Spanish Fork, added, "We spent a lot of hours away from our families reviewing the assessment items, and I don't know how we could possibly, just the 15 parents, be representative in reviewing curriculum and things like that."

Stephenson, however, said Monday he doesn't anticipate committee members having to spend too much more time reviewing complaints. He said complaints will still go to local school boards to work out first.

"In most cases, probably 90 percent of cases, the school boards will satisfy those concerns, but in those rare instances when people feel those materials are inappropriate for their children, they should have an appeal body to make their case to," Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the committee wouldn't necessarily have to meet to go over all complaints but could instead review them individually at home.

Still, some members of the committee worry about the additional task.

"The bill is taking some folks who volunteered to do one job," Caldwell said, "and demanding they do something different."

Farnsworth, a committee member from Vernal, said she's personally not even sure she's qualified to answer specific complaints about curriculum.

"I just can't imagine anyone feeling like they could completely answer every parent complaint in a valid and reassuring way," Farnsworth said.

She also wondered whether having the committee review complaints would make a difference to those opposed to the new standards.

For years, state education leaders have tried to persuade Common Core foes that the standards are good for kids, but to no avail. Many Common Core opponents are still wary about this spring's upcoming state testing tied to the Core, known as SAGE, even after the committee weeded through all the questions.

"If the higher-ups that have all that information and knowledge can't get those questions answered for parents, then how are we supposed to?" Farnsworth said.

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