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Waivers and Accountability: Who Needs Textbooks Anyway?

June 4, 2013

The Editorial Board of the Standard Examiner disses the tea party and other ideological groups for campaigning against the Common Core. (See

But I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the opposition to the Common Core Standards as mere rabble rousing from the extreme right. As a legislator, I have been approached by concerned parents and teachers alike with legitimate complaints about Common Core. Take note, it’s not just the Glenn Beck fans who are contacting me.

With little, if any, input from Utah parents, teachers or lawmakers, our educational leaders have jumped into Common Core with both feet. But why? As I dug into the issue, and earnestly tried to separate facts from emotional hysteria, an interesting subplot emerged.

A little known fact about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is that it would have required Utah and other states to immediately begin reporting their “failing” schools, as defined by NCLB. Faced with this looming accountability, our state school board leaped at an opportunity – any chance – to escape it. And more importantly, they don’t want to go back. If they abandon Common Core now, Utah’s NCLB waiver will be revoked – and Utah’s failing schools will have to be publicly disclosed.

I have been frustrated by the attitude of many of our state’s educational leaders when it comes to accountability. As an example, Utah schools had been reporting high graduation rates, but calculated them by excluding students who dropped out before their sophomore year. When the federal government forced them to include ninth graders, the rate measurably dropped.

To obtain its waiver from NCLB, Utah’s state school board agreed to use national, standardized assessments (tests) as part of its implementation of the Core. Many parents are concerned that these tests will be used to collect sensitive data about their children. And their fears are not unfounded.

A new plan from the U.S. Department of Education explains that the federal government should be able to tie test scores to a host of indicators, including (1) whether parents own or rent a home; (2) how many times a family has moved in the past year; and (3) whether anyone in their household receives medical assistance. The plan, drafted by the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES), also seeks information about home sizes, backyards, rates of single parenthood and unemployment.

Just a few short years ago, Utah developed new math standards that equaled or exceeded the Core. Those standards were drafted by Utah teachers!  Local districts invested scarce resources to purchase new textbooks to comply with those standards. Then Common Core came a’ knocking. Now, those same districts will be forced to spend more money to purchase new textbooks (once they are written) to match the Core. And students just finished their second school year with no textbooks. None. Nada.

Even if Common Core was the best thing since solar powered calculators, mandating its use without first developing training for teachers or materials for students is akin to educational malpractice. To make matters even worse, our schools are still testing students on the old curriculum that isn’t even taught anymore. And next year won’t be any different.

We deserve better.


From → 2013 Interim

  1. Phill Wright permalink

    Nice post Todd. This is another reason that the federal government needs to get out of the way and let States and communities determine the best way to teach their children. Utah has wonderful teachers, but when the federal government gets its hands on something it creates a bureaucratic monster that has an appetite that can never be satisfied.

  2. Sandra Mountcastle permalink

    It shocks me that as a legislator you came out supporting the Common Core before you knew all the information you now confess to having obtained. One point you seem to miss is that there has been no evidence that the Common Core standards are any better than standards which have already been in existence and proven successful. Better to adopt proven standards than to utilize a generation of children as guinea pigs to test out Common Core. In one of your previous blogs, you said something about a trial of 7 years, that would ruin a whole generation.

    • You must have been misinformed, Sandra. I have never “come out in support of common core”. I have made it my top priority since March to dig deep into the subject. I have been learning as much as I can, and blogging about my findings. I perceive that ad doing my due diligence as a policy maker. What is amazing to me is how much criticism I’ve received for doing this. Everyone seems to insist that I 100% adopt their position — and and quick to label me if I don’t.

  3. becky barnett permalink

    Thanks for looking at this. I would like to see UT drop common core. After it has been tested in other states or a pilot program run then data would be available to assess its effectivness for our kids.

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