The Utah Attorney General (AG) recently issued a report about Common Core. I’m grateful that Common Core concerns are receiving much-needed attention, rather than being dismissed as unfounded. I thank the Attorney General for his time spent on this issue. But the report is egregiously errant.
I’m just a full-time mom, not a lawyer. Though I have many years of experience teaching in public schools, plus years spent researching ed reforms, I never aimed to rebut a state attorney general’s education report. But truth is truth and error should not be accepted as fact.
Please study this out for yourself. I’m here to point out and to back up with documentation, the errors and omissions of the A.G.’s Common Core report. It’s for you to draw your own conclusions. It’s for our children to live with what we adults see as truth.
Before I get to the errors and omissions, I will point with gratitude to three key issues that the report correctly clarified:
1) The report’s first paragraph correctly clarified the fact that the “Utah Core” for K-12 math and English is, in fact, the exact same thing as “Common Core.” Many have been confused about this fact and some in leadership allow that confusion to continue because they know Common Core has become a toxic term. But no one need be confused. The A.G. is correct: Utah does (unfortunately and voluntarily) adhere to centralized, standardized Common Core standards and tests.
2) The report also correctly stated that the US Dept. of Education ( by imposing waiver conditions and pushing states to adopt federally approved standards) “has infringed upon local and state authority over public education” and that Utah and other states “consented to this infringement through federal coercion...” (emphasis added).
3) The report correctly said that “Utah has the legal ability to repeal” Common Core. Most people already knew that Utah CAN withdraw from Common Core; our point has always been that we REQUEST that our state will indeed withdraw from Common Core.
The Attorney General’s report wrongly concludes three main things, which I will afterward explain in detail:
1) That adoption of Common Core followed the rule of law; that the parent-teacher lawsuit –brought against the state’s decision to adopt Common Core without proper vetting– holds no water and that the board’s adoption of Common Core was legal; that Common Core standards do not qualify as rules –so the UARA’s rulemaking process did not need to be followed;
2) That Utah has not ceded authority nor lost local control over its education system via the Common Core Initiative; and that there are no groups that now hold direct or indirect control over Utah’s education system;
3) That Common Core does not impact curriculum.
- The report incorrectly states that the board’s adoption of Common Core followed the rule of law, using “a very public process” and that it was not illegal in any way. That question will soon be determined in a Utah court. The lawsuit to which the report referred–in which parents and teachers are suing the board over its method of adopting Common Core– is still a live, active lawsuit.
Connor Boyack of Libertas Institute (the institution supporting the lawsuit) was correctly quoted by the Deseret News, saying, “Specific behavior was required of the board that was not done. That is the basis of our lawsuit, and that was not responded to by the attorney general. Our allegations still stand and we’re confident that a judge will determine that the board, in fact, did not comply with the law.”
The A.G. came to a different conclusion not only from that of Libertas Institute but also from U.S. Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan, who noted that Utah’s state school board and many other states very quickly, quietly adopted Common Core “without studying it, without writing a white paper on it,” without consulting with the teachers, administrators and others whose careers would forever be altered by it.
This clearly goes against our state’s law.
As a public school teacher whose credential has never lapsed out of date, I can attest that when Common Core came to Utah, neither I nor any teacher, to my knowledge, received so much as a letter or an email consulting with or discussing or debating or communicating the fact that a decision was in process, nor announcing any potential positive or negative consequences of the decision. Local school boards can and have attested that they were likewise left out of the decision. Millions of public school parents can testify that there was no “very public process”. Although parents often get letters, robocalls and emails about school pajama day, the fall carnival, community council elections and many other issues, it was only long after the state had agreed to Common Core (and its associated data, testing and evaluation reforms) that parents and teachers became aware of what it was and how it would change our lives forever. Teachers and the general public would have had to have been actively scouring the state office of education website on a weekly basis (–and why would they?) –to have come across any invitation for public discussion or feedback on this huge, transformative issue.
The report also falsely states that prior to adoption of Common Core, Utah was an active participant in the creation of Common Core standards. This claim is not backed up with evidence of any kind. Listening to the minutes of the state school board meetings surrounding adoption of Common Core reveals that the claim is far from true.
Last, there’s the reference to Utah’s UARA which defines rules and rulemaking. The A.G.’s report correctly states that a plausible case can be made that because Utah is now ruled by Common Core’s rules, the rulemaking process should have been followed, and was not. UARA defines a rule as a statement by an agency (in our case, the USOE/school board) which implicitly or explicitly requires some class of people or agencies (in our case, school system employees) to obey it; a statement that implements or interprets law (in this case both state and federal law, even though the federal government does not have constitutional authority to make education laws– since it has done so and it uses money to control states’ obedience to these unauthorized laws and policies, and now Common Core-implementing state laws are congruent with Common Core education reforms as well).
Common Core standards must be considered rules since the state school board and USOE mandate statewide adherence to its benchmarks and tests, and the legislature specifically mandates teacher and school evaluation using Common Core computer adaptive testing.
But the A.G.’s report oddly states that because Utah law does not define the meaning of the term “standard,” the standards aren’t really rules so the rulemaking process was correctly skipped over. That defies common sense, and research. Teachers and administrators rely on USOE/USSB statements on Common Core to interpret and implement education law and policy. Common Core is mandated by the legislature’s Common Core CAT testing laws, and adherence to Common Core was partial payment for receipt of federal waivers, monies and technologies; it was parceled with federal No Child Left Behind waivers, ARRA grant obligations, SBAC (Utah’s former) testing grants, and the federal SLDS grant, each of which helped bind Utah schools, teachers and students to Common Core and common data standards.
- The report incorrectly states that Utah has NOT ceded authority over standards and curriculum. Utah ceded her authority by adopting Common Core, in several ways:
Way one: Utah has no vote or voice in the revisions to “its own” common core standards. Utah did not write Common Core. Neither did any other state. Common Core was never, despite its marketing claims, a state-led process. The creator-copyrighters of Common Core were two unelected, nonpublic groups— unaccountable-to-voters groups, cannot-be-influenced-by-voters groups; closed-door, private D.C. groups, that go by the misleadingly governmental-sounding titles of “National Governors’ Association” (NGA) and “Council of Chief State School Officers” (CCSSO). NGA and CCSSO are private clubs– they are nongovernmental, and not all governors nor all superintendents choose to belong to NGA/CCSSO; in fact, some U.S. governors and state superintendents avoid the NGA and CSSSO like the plague.
The power of the NGA and CCSSO over standards and education policy in many states is the prime example of education without representation.
Way two: Utah cannot vote for those who have authority to revise or change Common Core. And we know that Common Core IS going to change.
Utah’s Common Core standards are under copyright by NGA/CCSSO. Utah can’t influence who gets hired by NGA/CCSSO or what policies get created in those closed-door meetings. Utah can’t participate in any amendment meetings when Common Core “living work” standards get altered and revised, which the copyright holders have promised to do. The standards state: “The Standards are intended to be a living work. As new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly.”
Way three: The CCSSO –significantly– has also created the Common Educational Data Standards (CEDS), in partnership with the federal department of education, to match up with the Common Core standards technologically as well as academically. Utah promised the federal government to adhere to CEDS tracking technologies in such documents as Utah schools’ 2009 ARRA federal grant application, which is fully explained and linked here. Because our federally paid-for State Longitudinal Database System is also (per federal grant requirement) interoperable with federal systems, and because our Common education standards and Common data standards match the CCSSO’s CEDS requirements, student privacy and state autonomy over data systems are also no longer in our control. Truly, control over student data privacy is threatened via the interdependence of Common Core standards and federal Common data standards.
Way four: Utah’s statewide SAGE/AIR Common Core tests enforce the Common Core being taught in Utah schools and the Common data standards (CEDS) being used in Utah schools. SAGE/AIR are Common Core-led, computer adaptive tests which are not only end-of-year but year-round formative tests, controlled and created by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) with token help from a handful of appointed Utah teachers. AIR is officially partnered with both the federal government and the SBAC (federally-funded testing consortium). This means that the micromanagement of tests and the sharing of student level data –to which the SBAC is subject by contract— also binds AIR-partnered Utah. Utah students must be tested on Common Core standards using SAGE/AIR tests, which are secretive in nature, written by psychometricians with a mission statement that focuses on applying behavioral and social science research, and which follow the Common Core copyrighters’ philosophies. Test cannot be seen (because of secrecy rules) by those governed and tested and evaluated by them.
All of these controls do fetter Utah citizens to federal dictates, and each rests on the Common Core standards.
- The report incorrectly states that Common Core impacts only standards and not curriculum.. Because the state Common Core tests (aka SAGE tests) are not only year-end, but formative (year-round) tests, they impact curriculum very much– much more than any previous statewide testing did. Because state and federal reforms have now attached teacher evaluations and school evaluations directly to student scores on these Common Core tests, teachers must choose from an ever-narrowing spectrum of curriculum that teaches to the test more than ever before. The SBAC testing group, which is partnered with Utah’s AIR testing group, and Microsoft (Bill Gates’ company) which is partnered with Pearson (the world’s largest education sales products company) each offer Common Core test-matched curriculum, and Utah schools and technologies are purchasing them over other products, because the board mandated that Common Core would be Utah’s Core.
Lead Common Core funder Bill Gates revealed in a speech, “Identifying common standards is just the starting point. We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards… When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services… For the first time there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products…”
The A.G.’s report also omits key concerns, including:
- Copyright and control of Common Core– The report ought to have clarified who truly controls and holds copyright over the Common Core standards and its related data standards, and who has authority to revise them. Neither voters, nor elected representatives, nor local teachers, nor Utah’s State school Board, but only the nonpublic D.C. group, NGA/CCSSO, controls them.) As has been stated, there is no amendment process for our state to revise the “living work” of Common Core, by which we are now governed, although these standards will be revised by its copyrighters.
- The State Duty to Educate Locally– While the report is correct in saying that the federal government coerced states into adopting its definition of college and career ready standards with the hope of getting federal money, the report does not stand up and say that Utah is under a constitutional obligation to stand up for the right to educate via local dictates. The A.G.’s report does not recommend that Utah cease being controlled by and unreasonably swayed by federal money. It apparently accepts Utah’s seeming submissiveness to the federal (unconstitutional) posture of authority over education. If the A.G.’s office has not itself adopted the submissive mindset under the federal posture of (unauthorized) authority, then the report should have recommended that Utah fight for a reclaiming of state power over all aspects of education. If Utah’s A.G. believes in the constitutional separation of powers and in the importance of maintaining local control of the constitutionally state-held right and responsibility over state education — then the report should have focused on that point rather than sidelining it as an historical, water-under-the-bridge detail. Nor did the report recommend standing in solidarity with Oklahoma, a state which recently repealed Common Core and has faced federal power grabbing struggles as a result.
The report said, “Will we lose federal monies if we modify Common Core standards? No.”
That is a half-truth. Utah didn’t lose federal monies by adding cursive to Utah’s English standards in addition to Common Core, true. But if we make more than minimal additions (there’s a 15% cap on adding to Common Core) or if we aim to repeal the whole enchilada we end up with severe federal pushback as has been demonstrated in the case of Washington state and Oklahoma. We should, of course, still hold the line of state authority and ignore the pretended authority of Secretary Duncan.
III. The State Board’s Constitutional Duty to Not Cede Its Authority – The report correctly states that the school board has the authority to set standards, and that the board “is the appropriate constitutional body” to withdraw from Common Core, based on the Utah Constitution‘s words: “The general control and supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a state board of education consisting of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and such other persons as the legislature may provide.” True.
But nowhere in Utah’s Constitution does it say that the board, superintendent and other persons may give away or delegate that “general control and supervision of the public school system”.
The Attorney General’s report receives an “F” in my gradebook. It simply veers so far from the truth that it cannot be taken as correct.
I don’t expect to hear from the Attorney General’s office, apologizing for the errors. I don’t expect the state school board members nor those education staffers at the Governor’s office who openly call me and other teachers and parents “crazy” to suddenly fact-check, turn around and be enlightened. I simply wrote this piece for other people like me– people who care about the truth, people who aren’t financially rewarded by and tied to the claim that Common Core is the One True Path, people who value this knowledge, to better protect and educate their children and to possibly have a chance at saving some of the local control that is our Constitutional inheritance.