All posts by Alyson Williams

Fact Check on Governor Herbert’s Letter to Delegates

Ed. Note: Those who are serving as state delegates have received no less than five communications in the past week from Governor Herbert related to Common Core where he asserts that he is opposed to Common Core. Anyone who believes this is either unaware of the past six years of history or willfully closing their eyes and sticking their head in the ground. Just today I received a robocall from the Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, in which he states Governor Herbert has “fought against federal control of education including Common Core.” What respect I had for the Lt. Governor has been dramatically reduced.  What follows below is a rebuttal by Alyson Williams of the letter delegates received from Governor Herbert.

Don’t miss the other article exposing how involved Governor Herbert has been in promoting Common Core.

In a letter to State delegates dated April 7, 2016, Governor Herbert listed seven points, concluding with a personal note, to clarify his position on Common Core in Utah. A fact check against other sources follows each excerpted point below:

1) I have called for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.

TRUE (but don’t miss the fine print): While the topic didn’t come up in his remarks to Congress, he did say there should not be a federal Department of Education on his Facebook page: 

Governor Herbert NCLB

Now for the fine print, here are his remarks to Congress:

In short, the Governor outlines how instead of the Federal Department of Education controlling nationwide policies for education, Governors should collude to set nationwide policy for education. Calling for the elimination of the Department of Ed while advocating for an extragovernmental process to accomplish a different centralization of power is not a principle of constitutional federalism. It is a Constitution work around.

2) I signed into law SB287 – a bill that makes it illegal for the federal government to have any control.

FALSE: No law in our state makes it “illegal” for the federal government to have “any control.” 2012 SB287 ( began as a list of conditions under which Utah “shall exit” any federal education agreement. However, by the time it reached the Governor’s pen, it said, “may exit.” The degree to which Utah avoids federal parameters over local education policy is dependent on the people we elect to various positions of authority and whether they will take action not because they “shall” but because they “may” do so.  Governor Herbert has taken great pains to emphasize Utah’s legal authority to take an alternative path to Common Core and yet he has not advocated doing it. As the chair of the National Governor’s Association, a key stakeholder in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, he accepted a nationally prominent role in promoting these reforms.

3) I called for Attorney General Sean Reyes to conduct an exhaustive investigation to determine whether or not the state of Utah had ceded authority over our education system to the federal government on Common Core or any other standards. He concluded that Utah has not. We control our standards, our curriculum, our textbooks and our testing.

FALSE: Herbert did ask AG Sean Reyes to conduct an investigation but within carefully selected parameters, not an “exhaustive” one. The report provided legal justification for whether Utah could join or exit Common Core while avoiding a conversation Utahans can’t seem to have with this Governor about whether Utah should have joined or would exit Common Core.

As far as ceding authority to the federal government, the AG report acknowledges “the USDOE, by imposing those waiver conditions, has infringed upon state and local authority over public education. States have consented to the infringement, through federal coercion…”

A full response to this report by a Utah teacher can be found here:

Download the AG report here:

4) I commissioned Utah Valley University President Matt Holland and a group of experts to review our education standards. With over 7,000 public comments, this committee recommended improvements to standards and the state board has implemented many of these proposed changes.

UNDISCLOSED BIAS:  Throughout his campaign, Governor Herbert has referred to his Common Core review commission using only Matt Holland’s recognizable name, leaving out that the original chair, Rich Kendell (eventual co-chair with Holland), was an advisor for Prosperity 2020 and Education First. Prosperity 2020 Chair Allan Hall was also on the commission as was Rob Brems, a member of the Utah Data Alliance Executive Board. (Common standards are an invaluable asset for data collection.) All are highly qualified people, who, it must be noted, publicly favored these reforms before this commission was assembled.  There was just one k12 teacher on the commission, from a private school, and she did not concur with the report but her reasons for dissent are not specifically listed. 

In another example of this one-sided approach, the report references two experts who came to Utah to testify about the quality of the Standards but does not disclose their previous connection to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Timothy Shanahan from the University of Chicago was on the writing committee for the standards, and David Pearson from UC Berkeley was on the Common Core Standards validation committee. Both have published works and give seminars to help teachers implement Common Core around the country.  The concerns of the dissenting members of the Common Core validation committee who have also submitted testimony in Utah were never mentioned.

LIMITATIONS ON PUBLIC COMMENT: Public comment was limited to making suggestions standard by standard and not on the overall scope and sequence of the framework, or on things that are absent from the standards.

NO MEANINGFUL REVISIONS: As far as proposed changes coming from the report, there is a list of changes to the standards, but they are all corrections of typographical errors or clarifications of the wording.  (p. 33) Other less specific recommendations are scattered throughout, but are seemingly limited to organizational considerations like better cross-referencing between the standards and supporting materials with no substantive revisions.

Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the report is this statement that is repeated several times regarding the natural limitation to making meaningful changes to standards that are intended, as a priority, to be common across the U.S.:

“The Utah Core Standards can be revised and improved over time in accordance with Utah students’ needs and based on sound research, while staying similar enough to other states to assist transferability at grade level.”

RISKS FOR REMEDIATION UNCHANGED: Another conclusion of note was whether Common Core would reduce college remediation (starts pg 27): “Students who master Secondary Math I, II, and III standards will be very well prepared for postsecondary education and training programs.” In other words, in this report that ironically emphasizes the need to teach more “critical thinking,” we see an example of circular reasoning: students who master the content (or, who do not need remediation) will not need remediation… just like students who mastered content in previous math programs in Utah.

UNKNOWN OUTCOMES: This is immediately followed by the observation that we won’t truly know how college readiness will be impacted until we see how the kids who have been through Common Core get to college – underlining one of the biggest concerns of parents, that this is a statewide (nationwide) experiment on a scale that will reduce alternatives and inhibit the innovation driven by competing ideas. This experiment will affect an entire generation of Utah students but we can only hypothesize about the outcome: “Research on students who complete all of the grade levels of the mathematics standards will be required to verify that the standards (and their effective implementation) make a difference.” (p.28)

A link to the report:

5) I, and others, successfully lobbied Congress to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act and return education authority to the states. This policy change was heralded by the Wall Street Journal as the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”

FALSE: ESSA didn’t repeal “No Child Left Behind,” it reauthorized it. NCLB is just a nickname for one of the previous reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that has been due for reauthorization since 2007. This reauthorization was dubbed the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” It was revised to eliminate one of the most unpopular aspects of NCLB, the penalties for not meeting targets for AYP, but put nearly everything that had been pushed in the federal grants and waivers under Obama’s Department of Education into federal statute. Obama’s Secretary of Education said everything his administration had “promoted and proposed forever” is embedded in ESSA:

Here’s a letter sent to Utah’s Congressional delegation from a group of local parents highlighting a few of their concerns with ESSA:

Every member of Utah’s Congressional delegation, with the exception of Senator Hatch, voted against ESSA.

6) Assessing the progress of our students is important, but we want to maximize the time they spend learning, not the time they spend taking tests. This session, I worked with the Legislature and signed two bills into law that reduce high-stakes testing in our schools (SAGE testing).

TRUE-ish: Governor Herbert did sign the bill removing the high stakes for SAGE assessments from teacher evaluations and another bill that makes the SAGE test optional for 11th graders (who would likely be taking a different standardized test for college application purposes.) It is not clear how either of those reduce testing unless, in the first case, it is assumed that teachers will require less test practice if their evaluation isn’t directly impacted. In the second case, it’s likely just making room for a different high-stakes test.

7) Every budgetary proposal and policy decision I make is to give more authority and discretion to local school districts and local schools. I have continually advocated for increases to funding that gets to the classroom and can be tailored for local needs.

FALSE: Not every policy proposal. Much of the Governor’s Excellence in Education plan dating back to 2010 and the associated calls for additional funding have been in the context of his Education 2020 plan to expand state educational policy to include early childhood education (preschool, all day kindergarten), workforce alignment initiatives, data collection, and school and teacher accountability which is money for bureaucracy and additional programs, not an increase for the average classroom. He did call for additional $ to go into the WPU in his 2017 budget.

On a personal note, I have eleven grandchildren in Utah public schools. I’ve seen the frustration they and their parents have had over math assignments they didn’t understand and teachers struggled to teach. I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the flawed implementation of new standards, especially in math…

NOTE: It seems too common that when a top-down program fails it is blamed on the “implementation.” This is a key reason for true local control and for programs to be initiated at the level where the expertise, resources and student needs are best understood. Teachers should not be scapegoats for programs chosen by politicians.



Ask and Ye Shall be Disappointed

The following is a response to a former State Board member who weighed in on a FaceBook discussion about why the State Board had rushed to adopt the Common Core Standards according to a timeline that seemed to exclude serious consideration and certainly excluded the possibility of public consideration. He insists that the board studied the standards for months and that “anyone call those folks and they would tell you that is what happened.”


Joel, many of us in this group have indeed asked members of the board about the adoption and more, and when their answers didn’t match up with the verifiable facts, our confidence in them was understandably diminished.

I understand what you are saying about the Board reviewing the standards for months… you are probably referring to the DRAFT of the standards that had been made public. Funny thing though, the board’s feedback resulting from this months-long review has never been publicly shared so I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it in spite of the fact that representative government doesn’t typically require blind trust. Perhaps they felt confident that private reviews of the draft was adequate, but if they had anticipated that the standards writers would actually incorporate any of the feedback of those select few who were even able to give it, wouldn’t they also be anticipating the possibility of significant changes in the final version? Or, is this an admission that everyone knew the standards would be what they would be and that the board’s decision was really about whether to go along with the other states, and not about the standards on their own merits?

You’re right, meeting minutes can be vague at times. Good thing we have the audio. As Brenda had so succinctly put it in the meeting where the board authorized the initial MOU for the state to participate with the Common Core initiative in the first place, “half a billion is no small chuck of change” and “it doesn’t concern me that it will be so wildly out of line that we couldn’t live with it.”

Two Days after the final draft was released the board voted to adopt on first reading. Then a handful of weeks more there was the final vote. Why the rush? They wouldn’t be implemented for over a year. In the audio of that first board meeting that Connor referred to, Larry Shumway makes it clear that the standards had to be adopted for an upcoming interview about the State’s Race to the Top application. Now, after losing out on that grant, the board inexplicably insists that there was no Federal influence on their decision!

Dave Thomas stated in our recent debate that the Federal government was deliberately excluded from the initiative, implying the USED jumped on the bandwagon later with Race to the Top. I wonder, did he read the MOU the board had authorized the superintendent to sign in 2009 that clearly outlines what the Federal role would be? It’s only a couple of pages long.

Or, there is the congressional hearing around that same time where T. Kenneth James, then president of the Council of Chief State School Officers said, “I think it [the Common Core Initiative] can be done without the perception that the federal government is driving the train.” Then they discussed how the Feds leverage education funding and use their “pulpit” to promote it.

On your blog, Joel, you talk about the public comment on the standards to the board as evidence that the public was aware of what was happening and link to the minutes of two State Board Meetings as evidence. If anyone bothers to click on the links and read, they will see that Oak (one person, not plural) was one of two “public” and the only one to comment on standards. It turns out that at that time he was talking about Utah’s own Social Studies Standards, not Common Core. He also presented the board with a petition that you mention, also not about Common Core, but about including instruction about our country as a Republic in our state Social Studies Standards. At the end of Oak’s comments in one of the two meetings he makes reference to some new, national standards that he’d heard of saying something about how he hoped we wouldn’t go that direction. Evidence of the board’s representation, of their engagement with their constituents, or should I say constituent, on Common Core?

You can read more of what I’ve already written about what I think are flaws with the adoption process: (

Some of us have asked about the costs and why there wasn’t a formal cost study done. There was the claim you shared with me on FaceBook about the tens of millions saved by adopting the Common Core. Didn’t you say $75 million? I read over the budget for the past four years and couldn’t find that. I asked you for a reference then and am still waiting.

You probably don’t recall the “bagels and bills” event that I attended and sat at the same table as you did. I had come in hopes of meeting my State Board representative with whom I’d been unable to connect via email or phone. Instead I sat dumbfounded as he used his time to talk to the audience about the crazy moms (lumping all mothers’ voices into one) who were publicly discussing their concerns about Common Core, which he called “conspiracy theories,” and basically asked the local school board and local chamber to disregard what he characterized as unfounded fringe opinions, as he had determined to do. All this without his ever having engaged in a conversation with a single one of us. I never was able to introduce myself to him that day.

There was the time that Christel was speaking to a board member about why the board was unwilling to meet and discuss with some of us our concerns. The board member said she had met several times with Ms. Swasey. Christel had to ask, “Did you know that is me? I’m Ms. Swasey?” I could go on, but as you can see, it’s kind of embarrassing and that is not my goal.

It’s not these interactions alone that shake people’s confidence. I am always told to “read the standards” as if they are so wonderful I couldn’t possibly have concerns if I’d actually read them. We parents don’t have the benefit of the official professional development to help us overlook the obtuse and jargon-filled wording of the standards themselves to construct generous interpretations of their quality.

I went to the Logan debate prepared to discuss the standards themselves and instead fielded nebulous questions about what my “dream education system” would look like. I thought it silly that as Tami talked about the standards that night she gave examples of counting to 100 and basic addition – as if that’s all the standards are, as if we didn’t teach those things before Common Core. She got applause for claiming that with common standards kids will be able to move from state to state and be on the same page. Is she not aware that there are four adoption paths outlined in Appendix A of the CC Math Standards? Utah adopted was is called the “integrated” path that spreads the topics across classes and grades so uniquely that it seems likely that Utah will be even more out of sync with what other states (including those that adopted CC) are teaching, and in what order, than ever. Only one other state did this. So, unless those who were applauding are planning to move to Vermont they may be in for a rude awakening. What about all those students who move here from other states, or a homeschool student trying to be placed back into public school, but who had been studying math by discrete subject? How will they fit into a system that teaches a little algebra here and a little geometry there? Did the board study that? If commonality is the most appealing benefit that is supposed to compensate Utahans for what we’ve given up, why are we implementing it the way we are?

Then there is the increase in informational texts recommended for ELA. Appendix A of the ELA standards is the “research” for the standards. It is basically just an essay about text complexity with only a couple of footnotes through which the writers notably, in the first instance, consult themselves. It offers some kind of interesting insights about how text complexity is measured and how text complexity differs across various media and over time. Then, it puts forth what is basically a hypothesis that if kids dissect a graduated complexity of informational texts they will be more career-ready. It is followed by a list of other research papers (not directly referenced to anything in the text itself as one would expect of a “research” paper), also primarily about text complexity. There is no Newkirk, who wrote about how kids who read a lot and are intrinsically engaged in what they read are better readers and writers. There is no Oatley who has been recognized internationally for his research on the psychological effects of reading and writing and the importance of reading fiction. The Common Core hypothesis for ELA is that in college and as adults we typically read more informational text, therefore we should read more in K-12 as well. It’s nothing more than an untested theory that is made all the more concerning by the fact that there does exist research that might suggest  the opposite is true – that, for that very same reason, students ought to be reading more classic literature and fiction to voluntarily increase reading stamina and to develop a more sure foundation in the ideas of the best thinkers and observers of our civilization as can only be conveyed in the great literary works that have outlasted the educational fads of the moment.

I’m not saying I am absolutely right or have all the answers but am discouraged that the board can’t offer anything of substance to counter concerns, but tend to rely on endorsements as if it were evidence.

They don’t even seem to be familiar with the basics of the agreements they authorized to be signed, like the 15% cap on adding to the standards. The board gave a presention to members of the legislature in which they denied that such limitation even existed despite the fact that we were able to show them several places in primary governing documents where it did exist, not counting the minutes of the board meeting where the 15% was stated expressly in their adopting vote. (See slide 20 of the board’s presentation posted here:

Sorry about rambling on. I share all this “water under the bridge” stuff only to make the point that many of us have “asked the board” and discovered that as much as we like you and the members of the board personally, and as well-intentioned as they undoubtedly are, they haven’t proved to be a reliable source of information or insight on these topics. That is why your advice here “to ask” comes across as a little condescending and why many of us are looking forward to enabling a process of getting members on the state board who are more electorally accountable to their constituents, who might demonstrate a little more independence of thought instead of parroting the company line, and who might be a little more diligent with the details.

It’s not about finding someone who always agrees with one view on Common Core or another. I’d prefer disagreement in the context of an honest discourse about the pros and cons of de facto national standards,

or about what is really meant by the “critical thinking” that seems to be the magic sauce of the standards according to proponents, (you thought “state-led” had a lot of different meanings!)

or about the obligations associated with and our reliance on federal funds,

or about whether workforce preparation should be the primary goal of education

and about how the adoption of the Common Core standards and the other stimulus-driven reforms affect Utah in all of those areas.

In conclusion, repeating to parents ad nauseam talking points about how the standards are “rigorous” (because we said so) and “internationally benchmarked” (“in spirit,” to quote directly from the CCSS) smacks of propaganda. I really don’t think I’m the only person who is tired of such nonsense and that’s why I believe the controversy around this topic is not going to die down any time soon. Advising clearly frustrated constituents who have done their homework to “ask” board members who haven’t been able to demonstrate that they’ve done theirs only adds fuel to the fire.

The Common Core Standards We’re Not Talking About

(These remarks were given at the Utah County Women’s Legislative Council November 19, 2013)

We’ve heard that with Common Core we’re just setting higher standards for learning right? Why would a mom who wants the very best for her children be against that?

We are a community with high standards for all kinds of things, not just education.

Standards can be examples, expectations, models, patterns, or precedents to follow or measure oneself against.

Keeping those synonyms in mind I’d like to talk about the standards we’ve set for our children in the course of adopting the Common Core. You may be surprised to learn that we have set new standards not only for math and English, but also for how public education is governed.

At the beginning of Obama’s first term our Congress passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also known as “the Stimulus” which included $100 Billion dollars for education. At the time major newspapers buzzed ( about the unprecedented power of assigning this much money to the discretion of the Education Secretary with virtually no congressional oversight. From the Stimulus came the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Race to the Top grant programs that enabled the Department of Ed to set rules for education, in exchange for the money – rules that normally would be determined by the States themselves under the 10th Ammendment.

This 36 page document, “The Road to a National Curriculum” ( was written by two former top lawyers for the US Department of Education. In it they offer an analysis of how these reforms violate three Federal laws. They conclude, “The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.”  (p.18)

Using taxpayer money from the stimulus to implement reforms that weaken the State’s autonomy over education is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Proponents of these reforms like to point out that adopting these reforms was a legitimate exercise of state’s rights because the development of the standards was led by the Governors at the National Governors Association. The problem is Utah State Constitution does not grant authority over education to our Governor. Furthermore, there is no such thing in the U.S. Constitution as a council of governors. Comparing best practices is one thing, but Governors working together to jointly address issues and create rules that affect the whole nation is not a legitimate alternative to Congress, our national representative body. The organizations that introduced Common Core to our nation, state-by-state, had no constitutional commission to do what they did.

Allowing rules for education to be set by those with no authority to do so is not a high enough standard for me or my children.

The Governor didn’t decide on his own that Utah would adopt these reforms. The agreements were also signed by the State Superintendent acting in behalf of the State School Board. The Utah Constitution does give authority to the State School Board to set academic standards. It does not say that they can outsource a role we entrusted to them to a non-governmental trade organization who outsourced it to another group of hand-picked experts. This is called “delegation” and it has been established in legal precedent (three cases cited on this slide prepared by the USOE – slide 24 USBE rebuttal) to be unconstitutional.

Elected officials delegating a job we entrusted to them to a body outside the jurisdiction of state oversight is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

The official USOE pamphlet on the Common Core adoption says that the State School Board “monitored this process.” But Dane Linn who was the education director for the NGA at the time the standards were being written stated, “All of the standards writing and discussions were sealed by confidentiality agreements, and held in private.”

There were no meeting minutes, no public records, no obligation by the lead writers to even respond to the input of anyone who submitted it, including any input from our school board. As a parent and a taxpayer, this process cuts me out completely.

As citizens of a self-governing Republic, this non-representative process is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

While this process was different than the way standards have been vetted in the past, the State School Board insists their involvement and review was adequate and that there was time for public input. The USOE published this timeline for adoption of the standards. (USBE slide rebuttal page 22.) Here it says that the summer of 2010 was the public comment period. However, the final draft was not available until June 2, and the Board took their first of two votes to adopt them two days later on June 4. The second and final vote was made a month later, but the first formally announced public comment period I could find was in April of 2012 – 22 months after the Board officially adopted the standards.

No meaningful public input on changes that affect all of our community schools is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

When the Department of Education ran out of grant money to get states to implement their reforms, they offered the states waivers from unpopular requirements of No Child Left Behind that many Utah schools were not anticipated to meet. While the No Child Left Behind law did grant limited authority to the Department of Education to waive certain conditions, it did not grant them authority to require new conditions in exchange.

This increasingly common habit of the executive branch to waive laws and replace them with their own rules, as if they held the lawmaking authority assigned to Congress, is not an acceptable standard for me and my children.

This is not the only example of the Department of Education overstepping their authority. In order for States to collect the individual student data required by these reforms, the US Department of Ed altered the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act weakening the protection of parental control over sharing student data. Both the Electronic Privacy Information Center ( and Fordham University’s Center for Law and Information Policy have written briefs charging that the Education Department acted illegally. (

Unelected officials gutting laws that were established by Congress to protect my family’s privacy is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Ever since we started down the road of adopting Common Core, in fact, I’ve noticed a much greater influence over education by unelected special interests. In an article published in the Washington Post in May (, for example, it was estimated that the Gates Foundation has spent at least $150 million dollars to fund and promote Common Core.

A July 2010 BusinessWeek Coverstory on Bill Gates quotes Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy saying, “As a private entity that doesn’t answer to voters, Gates can back initiatives that are politically dicey for the Obama Administration, such as uniform standards … In the past, states’ rights advocates have blocked federal efforts for a national curriculum. Gates ‘was able to do something the federal government couldn’t do.”

When one very rich man has a greater influence over the direction of public education than parents, teachers and local communities that sets an unacceptable standard for “we the people,” for me, and for my children.

What is the justification for pushing these reforms through, bypassing the checks and balances of our established legal framework? We have to do it we are told so that our children will be “career and college ready.”

The Govenor, on his webpage for education, says we need to implement these reforms to “align educational training to meet the workforce demands of the marketplace.”

To me, all of these workforce goals seem to imply that the highest aim of education is work. Historically, the purpose of American education was to nurture the development of self-governing citizens, with work being incidental to that development. This nation has uniquely thrived according to the principle that a free market with good people pursuing their own dreams works better than attempts at centrally regulated markets with efficiently trained workers.

Being an efficient employee in a job that matches a data profile collected by the state from cradle to career is not a high enough standard for education, not for my children.

Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of publicly funded education. He saw literate citizens educated in history and principles of good government as a necessary condition of maintaining liberty. He said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

How tragically ironic if in the very name of public education we end up eroding those very safeguards of liberty that he championed.

My opposition to the way we’ve adopted Common Core (and the rest of the education reforms introduced in the Stimulus) is not just about the education of my children, it is about the type of government I hope my children will inherit when they have children of their own. I believe we can set high standards for math and english without circumventing, stretching, or ignoring the high standards for self government that have made our nation unique in all the history of the world. This is the Constitution of the United States of America. These standards ARE high enough for me, and my children.

Rebuttal to USOE Fact flier

The USOE (Utah State Office of Education) mailed out a flier (on our dime) to all GOP delegates making unsubstantiated statements to try and persuade them to vote against the anti-Common Core resolution on Saturday.

USOE’s QuickFacts in quotes, responses below:

1. In Utah, the term “Common Core” is limited to only the state level standards for mathematics and English language arts. In our state, those standards are not connected to data sharing, federal funding or mandates, or loss of local control of education.

Adopting Common Core standards, the only standards that fit the definition of “career and college ready standards,” was a condition of the federal Race to the Top RttT grant[1] application that also included requirements for data collection. The USOE committed to the standards in our application[2] before the standards were complete[3].  Utah did not receive RttT money[4] in the end, but by the time we knew this, the reforms were in place[5].

These are not just standards.  Common core is just one piece of a much larger education reform agenda[6].  The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund[7], Race to the Top grant[8], Race to the Top for Assessments[9], and No Child Left Behind Waiver all share the same 4 reform tenents.  Namely, standards and assessment reforms, accountability a.k.a teacher/principal evaluations-school grading, data systems, and school turn around reforms.[10]

2. The Common Core State Standards were created by the states, for the states. Utah adopted these standards in 2010, thus making them part of the Utah Core Standards.

“States” did not lead this effort. The National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) who led this process are non-governmental trade organizations who receive their funding from the federal government and private companies[13] [14].  Proponents of Common Core claim that President Obama is now trying to take credit for what the states started.  While it is true that there has been a movement toward centralized/nationalized education for a long time, President Obama catapulted his vision of education reform on the states with enticements of Stimulus money[15] and threats of losing Title I[16] money.  As noted in several states’ board meeting minutes and audio from spring of 2009, the States had been invited to develop national standards[17] [18] [19] by the US Dept. of Ed.  Further, the NGA and CCSSO are not elected representative bodies and their meetings are not open to the public[20] [21]. This process is not compatible with those laid forth by our state or federal constitutions[22].  According to the Utah Constitution[23], the only people who set standards that the Governor has the authority to help pick are the ones that go on the ballot[24] for State School Board elections… not those who made up the privately-hired standards writing committee[25]. State School Board members are elected to represent the will of the people of this state, not to represent the will of the NGA/CCSSO to the people of this state.

3. Utah and the nation’s economic strength depend on how well we educate our children to compete in a global economy. Utah teamed with other states to adopt evidence-based standards standards that will improve our economic standing in the world, both as a country and as a state.

A correlation between high student test scores (which is how states and countries are compared and ranked in education policy setting) and economic prosperity has never been empirically established: “Unfortunately for proponents of this empirically vapid argument it is well established that a rank on an international test of academic skills and knowledge does not have the power to predict future economic competitiveness and is otherwise meaningless for a host of reasons (Baker, 2007; Bracey, 2009; Tienken, 2008).”

4. The Common Core standards are internationally benchmarked to keep Utah students competitive in math and English language arts, not just with other students in the United States, but with students from around the world.

Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, the only content experts who sat on the Common Core validation committee refused to sign off on the standards in part because no proof of international benchmarking was ever given.  They asked for specific countries used and none were supplied[26].  Their own comparisons with other nations led them to conclude that students following the CCSS would be two years behind their peers in countries with high test performance[27].

Additionally, in a March 2010 Massachusetts State Board Meeting Jason Zimba, one of the writers of the standards admitted that the standards were written to prepare students for a non-selective two-year college not a four year university[28].

In April James Milgram wrote a letter[29] to a UT citizen for the State School Board and this is what he had to say about international benchmarking – “I can tell you that my main objection to the Core Standards, and the reason I didn’t sign off on them was that they did not match up to international expectations.  They were at least 2 years behind the practices in the high achieving countries by the 7th grade, and, as a number of people have observed, only require partial understanding of what would be the content of normal, solid, course in Algebra I or Geometry. … They will not help our children match up to the students in the top foreign countries when it comes to being hired to top level jobs.”

5. The Utah State Board of Education controls the core for Utah and answers to no one but Utah voters on the issue.

The Utah State Board of Education answered to no one, especially not voters, in adopting the Common Core standards without publicity or public hearings.  Just recently in the audio[30] from the May 2nd board meeting where a resolution supporting Common Core was passed the comment was made, “This is just the beginning of really communicating the way we need to with the general public” and “we need to take our political messaging more seriously and consider it carefully”.  We elect the board to listen and represent the people not the other way around.

In this same meeting when discussing the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waiver standards options, their legal counsel told the board, “Option B clearly says that you need the approval and certification of those institutions of higher education. In my opinion that is delegating authority, which may be scrutinized.  Cases with regard to delegation of constitutional authority that’s been constitutionally delegated is very fact specific.”   Yet, this is exactly what happened with the Common Core when the State Board delegated their authority to the NGA who certified the standards as “rigorous and internationally benchmarked”.

A step as significant as nationally aligned standards, affecting almost every student in the country should have involved a thorough public vetting process.

6. Utah can utilize any standards it chooses at any time with no penalty or repercussions. States created the standards and any state can withdraw at any time without penalty.

Great news! Let’s get out!

We’ve never said we can’t get out but that we want out.  The longer we go down the implementation road the more money we spend on these reforms and the harder it will be to get out.

Withdrawal would likely affect our ESEA flexibility waiver.  We should demand true Congressional relief from No Child Left Behind.

7. The Utah Core Standards are minimum standards of expectations of what students should be learning at each grade level and states are free to add to these standards. In fact, the Utah State Board of Educationis already developing additional standards in cursive and handwriting to add to the English language arts core.

The Utah State Board of Education voted in August 2010[31] to adopt the copyrighted standards as written, in their entirety.  States can add a small amount to the standards, up to 15%.

The RTTT[32], RTTTA[33], NCLB waiver[34] all use the same 15% language.

8. Nothing in Utah’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards promotes data mining of student’s personal information or other inappropriate use of student data. The Utah State Board of Education is committed to student and teacher privacy and will not share personally identifiable data.

Common standards has been the holy grail of researchers and data mining proponents for years as it greatly enhances the comparable sample size and the ability to compare data across states. One private education data mining company called the CC standards the “glue that ties everything together.” A state longitudinal student data system SLDS was another requirement of both the RttT grant program and the ESEA flexibility waiver. National, “student-level” longitudinal data (de-identified with a student number) instead of aggregate data, is the desired outcome of combining the SLDS with common standards. Making sure data is not “personally identifiable” is only one small safety measure and in no way addresses the many other privacy and policy concerns.

As stated under “fact #1” Common Core is just one piece of a much larger education reform agenda[35].  The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund[36], Race to the Top grant[37], Race to the Top for Assessments[38], and No Child Left Behind Waiver all share the same 4 reform tenents.  Namely, standards and assessment reforms, accountability a.k.a teacher/principal evaluations-school grading, data systems, and school turn around reforms.[39]

9. The Common Core is not a program, assessment system, data collection system, a curriculum, nor a federalization of state education programs. The Common Core is a set of standards – nothing more nor less than the Utah State Board of Education’s expectations for grade-level appropriate knowledge in core subjects. The determination on how to teach these standards rests solely with local schools.

The term “Common Core” specifically refers the standards that are an essential and most visible piece of a broader reform package that has no official name. As a result, the term is also often used (whether the Board condones it or not) to refer to the full package of reforms that were included in the federal incentives of RttT and the ESEA waiver, i.e. Common Core reforms, or Common Core agenda. Policy that affects our children should not be made without consideration to how each small piece interacts with all other factors. When those in the highest positions of authority over education don’t acknowlege the impact of nationally aligned standards in the overall context of other reforms such as data collection, unreviewable assessments, teacher accountability and school grading laws it is highly concerning and fosters a loss of confidence.

10. The standards are not one-size-fits all. Common Core standards for English and math are the same for states that adopt them, but local school districts, charters, principals, teachers and parents decide how these rigorous standards will be met. Standards do not mandate how teachers should teach of how students should learn–Utah will continue to innovate and share its successes with other states.

Standards generally determine what will be taught and in what order. Aligned tests, to which teacher pay is tied, have a more specific influence on curriculum. Practice standards, included in the CCSS, have been interpreted consistently to favor certain methods of teaching. The small sliver of local control over a narrowed selection of materials within the confines of the standards and assessments leaves little room for innovation.

Listen to what Bill Gates[40] who has poured millions into the creation and promotion of CCSS has to say about the standards, assessments and aligned curriculum.




[26] – page 3

[28] – page 5






Centralized Education Reform by Any Other Name Would Smell

Centralized Education ReformGetting caught up in discussions about whether Common Core is “state led” or a federal program seems a fruitless debate of semantics.

What is the danger of a federally controlled education system that makes “state led” sound better? Those who oppose federal control typically oppose a concentration of power that would dictate one set of educational ideals (yes, even standards represent certain values) to the exclusion of others, establishing an intellectual tyranny of sorts.

Whether one sees Common Core as a federal program, or as the product of an extragovernmental cartel of state leaders (aka state-led) and special interests who had no constitutional commission to affect nationwide education policy in the way that they did, the outcome is the same:

Decisions were concentrated into the hands of a select few and the reforms of one ideology were championed (with the help of federal funds) while all other voices were shut out.

In other words, those who argue that this was not an outright federal mandate have a valid point. Common Core is the result of the second scenario, which is even worse than a direct federal mandate (as if No Child Left Behind wasn’t intrusion enough) from our duly elected representatives in Washington D.C.

This process sets an alarming precedent for circumventing our constitutional representative form of government and seems to establish a safe haven for the collusion of public funds and private interests without the traditional oversight established by law at either the federal or the state level.

I question what seems to be a generally accepted notion that Governors and Chief State School Officers have the legal authority to represent the state in making decisions jointly with other states. I see that as the role of Congress.

Common Core was not a “best practice” that was modeled by one state and copied by others. It was a joint initiative that had never been piloted anywhere… an unusual collaboration between the executive branches of State and Federal government and private interests that was brokered by the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It was a process that was not openly accountable to “we the people,” that was not subject to open meetings, open records, lobbying restrictions etc.

There is a long history of disagreement over the best way to teach math, or what books and literature are of the most worth. In a free society, this competition of ideas has traditionally been considered a valuable condition that would encourage innovation, preserve liberty, and provide options. When the results of competing ideas and methodologies can be compared, people can make informed decisions and choose for themselves what works best.

Those who comfort themselves with the remaining sliver of local control over curriculum within the confines of the Common Core standards and tests seem strangely willing to trade some of the last vestiges of local control (unlikely to ever be returned once surrendered) to support an untried philosophy of education that is dismissive of the experience and creativity of our best teachers, and of the primary stewardship of parents over their children.

Meanwhile textbooks, summative assessments, prepackaged curriculum and formative assessments grow ever more homogenous as they align to “common” standards, and the benefits of school choice are practically erased.

If this were just about standards that would be one kind of disagreement… but the furor over Common Core is about a fundamental shift in control over education.

This is about how decisions for education, and perhaps even other “state led” initiatives, are governed going forward.

This is about whether those closest to the children and their needs will be marginalized in favor of overgeneralized policy by bureaucrats and educrats.

This is not just about what our kids will learn, but about who gets to decide.