Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision to review Utah’s adoption of national "Common Core" standards for education may produce useful information, but it will not, as the governor says, "settle this question once and for all."
Arguably, no debate of what to teach children is ever settled, but in this case the reason it won’t be settled is because the people questioning the Common Core are not interested in settling it. They aren’t even interested in accurately describing the situation.
"We don’t have local control now," says Utah’s leading Common Core opponent, Utah Eagle Forum leader Gayle Ruzicka. "We have federal control."
That is not true, and Ruzicka knows it. Whatever embrace the state has made or continues to make of the Common Core standards, they have never been mandatory. The state remains totally in control, which is why Gov. Herbert can convene this effort to review and perhaps change its standards. Ruzicka is cynically playing to her base, and Utahns genuinely interested in improving education would be wise to ignore her.
The idea behind the Common Core, which has been adopted by more than 40 states, is to set a national standard for what schoolchildren should know about mathematics and language arts. "Standard" is the key word. Nothing in the Common Core goes to specifics of curriculum. There is no Common Core reading list, for instance. That is left to the states to decide.
So local control remains as it should, but it’s also easy to see advantages of national standards. Our children compete for jobs and college placement with the rest of the nation, and we should have some mechanism for seeing that we’re keeping up. There is nothing in meeting national standards that prevents Utah from exceeding them.
The Common Core’s opposition in Utah is part of a baffling superiority complex that promotes the notion that Utah knows better than the rest of the nation how to educate children. In fact, data show Utah’s education system produces average results at best. That may be a victory for a state that spends less than any other educating its children, but it’s not a promising strategy in an economy that is getting more intellectually demanding. Clearly, there are things the rest of the nation can teach us.
The governor has asked the attorney general to determine if Utah is legally entangled by the standards. He also appointed former Higher Education Commissioner Richard Kendall to head a group to review the standards from the higher educational point of view. Kendall, who also was a Davis School District superintendent, is a good choice.
Yes, let’s review the Common Core, just as we must constantly review all of our educational standards in a rapidly changing world. Just don’t try to satisfy a vocal minority that puts politics over improving schools.
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