Tag Archives: State School Board

Sutherland Institute Fact Checks USOE

The Sutherland Institute has responded to a letter from Brenda Hales at the Utah State Office of Education and published their fact check agreeing and disagreeing with various points. This is an important document.


Among their statements are these clips. Further explanations are on their page than what I’m copy/pasting so I encourage you to read their writeup.

USOE: “The State Board of Education has control over the standards and assessments for Utah. The State Board can and will change them as needed without outside group or federal approval. The State Board is solely responsible for overseeing the implementation of the standards in our state.”

Rating: False, except the final sentence.

USOE: “Utah has not lost its autonomy over standards and assessments.”

Rating: False.

USOE: “The Utah core standards may be changed by the State Board at any time.”

Rating: False, unless the state exits current agreements.

USOE: “The Utah core standards are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.”

Rating: Somewhat false.

USOE: “The Utah core standards are not obligatory because of Utah’s NCLB flexibility request application.”

Rating: False.


Letter to State Education Officials

Alisa Ellis sent this letter to Brenda Hales, other USOE officers, and the State School Board this morning. We wanted to share this with the public and ask that you share this as well. There is a need for a hearing, perhaps in an education committee interim legislative meeting. Questions are not being fully answered by state officials who continue to say we’re wrong but without producing documentation.

Brenda –

I know you and others at the State office are frustrated with our continual fight against Common Core.  This is why I feel it is time we sit down and talk.  As noted after the public forum at Granite district offices by a reporter (loosely quoted) “both sides left further entrenched in their views”.

I have seen the articles and statements put out by you and others at the state office and I have read many, many government documents relating to the Common Core Standards and other educational reform ideals.  From my perspective the documents and the statements  put out by your office do not mesh.

I’ve seen your timeline and also studied the minutes of your meetings.  I’ve studied the minutes from other states and feel that there is a lot of misrepresentation.  I know you feel that I am misinformed but I can assure you I’m more informed than I’ve ever been in my life.

Of course there are some documents and meetings I am not privy too and so I feel it is imperative to sit down with you and Superintendent Shumway and go over all the questions I and other parent’s and citizens have. At a meeting on April 6th with Governor Herbert, he promised to help us set up a meeting with Superintendent Shumway and so I’ve copied his secretary to get that ball rolling if I must.

I would like to see documentation to the statements made by the state office.

I would like to see exactly how you and other’s in UT wrote the Math and ELA standards.  Especially after I listened to the audio of the board meeting where you said they didn’t want us (UT) to send a team to help write the standards because they didn’t want it to turn into a Constitutional convention.  I’d like to see a comparison showing the difference between Common Core State Standards and the Utah Core.  I am very confused as to how UT claims to have written copyrighted standards.  I read in the NCLB waiver that UT cross-walked our standards with Common Core standards.  I’d like you to show me exactly how that was done and like I said show me the differences in the standards.

I’d like to know why members of the board are of the opinion that UT is not bound to any contractual obligations.  We have an approved waiver application to NCLB (contractual obligation) and yet members of the board are of the opinion we can change our standards whenever we want.  Be prepared in the meeting to explain exactly what process this will take when we’ve agreed to the definitions in the document and attached evidence of how we’ll meet the requirements outlined by the Dept. of Ed.

It is not effective to continue this “he said, she said dialogue”.  We must have a meeting.  I recognize it is summer but feel an urgency to sit down and talk with you.

I am available this week.

We do not need to keep down this path of confrontation.  It is not conducive to constructive dialogue.  I have 6 children in the public schools in UT and have no plans of backing down on my questions until I am satisfied that the answers given are backed up by fact and documentation and that this is the best move for our state and our children.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Alisa Ellis

Christel Swasey Responds to Brenda Hales

On July 10th, 2012, a public forum was held where 4 visiting experts shared concerns with Common Core. A press release was sent out earlier in the day causing Brenda Hales, a USOE administrator, to post a statement on the Utah Public Education website trying to offer the official line on Common Core. Christel Swasey, a Utah public education teacher, challenged her statement with this fact filled rebuttal. I encourage you to read Brenda’s post as well so you can see what’s being said by the USOE.


To Whom It May Concern:

The following information directly conflicts with this week’s statement about Common Core and national educational reforms as published by the USOE at http://utahpubliceducation.org/2012/07/10/utahs-core-standards-assessments-and-privacy-regulations/.

The following information has links to references so that you can verify what is claimed, unlike the unreferenced information given by the USOE.

1. Personally identifiable student data will be shared with governmental and non-governmental entities, both in-state and out of state, as never before.

The Federal Register outlines, on page 51, that it is not a necessity for a school to get student or parental consent any longer before sharing personally identifiable information; that has been reduced to the level of optional.

“It is a best practice to keep the public informed when you disclose personally identifiable information from education records.”  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf

Dec. 2011 regulations, which the Dept. of Education made without Congressional approval and for which they are now being sued by EPIC, literally loosen, rather than strengthen, parental consent rules and other rules.  http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=5aa4af34-8e67-4f42-8e6b-fe801c512c7a

A lawyer at EPIC disclosed that these privacy intrusions affect not only children, but anyone who ever attended any college or university (that archives records, unless it is a privately funded university).

Because the 2011 changes stretch and redefine terms like “authorized representative” and “educational program” to include non-governmental agencies and many additional governmental agencies, effectively, there is no privacy regulation governing schools anymore, on the federal level. (Thanks to Utah legislators who are on the case, we might soon have stronger privacy laws to protect Utahns from the new federal intrusion).

The types of information that the Department will collect includes so much more than academic information: it includes biometric information (DNA, fingerprints, iris patterns) and parental income, nicknames, medical information, extracurricular information, and much more. See page 4 at  http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferparegs.pdf and see http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentPostsecondary

Utah’s federally-funded State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) exists for the purpose of sharing data not only among state agencies but from the state to the US Dept. of Ed.  The SLDS also exists to “manage” and “disaggregate” educational information within the state.   –A briefing was given in Utah, August 2010 by John Brandt, who is the USOE Technology Director and a member of the federal Dept. of Education, a member of the federal NCES, and a chair member of CCSSO (an organization that helped develop and promote the Common Core national standards.) On page 5 of Brandt’s online powerpoint, he explains that student records and transcripts can be used from school districts to the USOE or USHE “and beyond,” and can also be shared between the USOE and the US Department of Education.

Utah’s P-20 workforce council exists to track citizens starting in preschool, and to “forge organizational and technical bonds and to build the data system needed to make informed decisions” for stakeholders both in and outside Utah. — http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/2/prweb9201404.htm

The linking of data from preschool to post-secondary and on to workforce, both locally and to D.C., allows agencies easy access, technologically and in terms of legal policy.

The SLDS and P-20 systems were paid for by the federal government and they transform the way data is shared– and the federally stated purpose for all the data gathering is educational research– yet this also allows the state and federal governments to track, steer and even punish teachers, students and citizens more easily. http://cte.ed.gov/docs/NSWG/Workforce_Data_Brief.pdf

Data linking changes are not just technological in nature; there are also changes being made in regulations and policies that make former privacy protection policies all but meaningless.  The changes are so outrageous, harming parental consent law and privacy concerns so much that the Department of Education has been sued over it. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the Dept. of Education, under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that the Dept. of Ed’s regulations that changed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in Dec. 2011 exceeded the Department of Education’s authority and are contrary to law. http://epic.org/apa/ferpa/default.html

The Federal Register of December 2011 outlines the Dept. of Education’s new, Congressionally un-approved regulations, that decrease parental involvement and increase the number of agencies that have access to private student data: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf  (See page 52-57)

Although the Federal Register describes countless agencies, programs and “authorities” that may access personally identifiable student information, it uses permissive rather than mandatory language.  The obligatory language comes up in the case of the Cooperative Agreement between the Department of Education and the states’ testing consortium –of which Utah is still a member: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf

In that document, states are obligated to share data with the federal government “on an ongoing basis,” to give status reports, phone conferences and other information, and must synchronize tests “across consortia”. This triangulation nationalizes the testing system and puts the federal government in the middle of the data collecting program.

For more information about the history of similar actions taken by the federal Dept. of Education that infringe upon state law and freedom, see the white paper by ROPE (Restore Oklahoma Public Education) entitled “Analysis of Recent Education Reforms and the Resulting Impact on Student Privacy”  —  http://www.scribd.com/doc/94149078/An-Analysis-of-Recent-Education-Reforms-and-the-Resulting-Impact-on-Student-Privacy

For understanding of the motivation of the federal government, read some of the US Dept. of Education Arne Duncan’s or Obama’s speeches that show the passion with which the federal agency seeks access to data to control teachers and educational decisions. http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/06/06082009.pdf

2. The State Board of Education has virtually no control over the national standards it has adopted for Utah. 

Governing documents of Common Core state that the Utah School Board may not delete anything from the national standards and can only add 15% to them.  If Utah needs to add about a whole year’s worth of improvement to a given standard, as is the case with the 6th and 9th grade Common Core “math bubble” of repetition experienced this year in districts that implemented Common Core math, we can’t add more –and remain the same as Common Core nationally.  Our 6th and 9th graders learn no math for an entire year because of the lack of local control.  (Prior to Common Core, 8th graders learned Algebra I.  Under Common Core, 9th graders learn Algebra I.)  Because the NGA placed the standards under copyright, Utah can not amend them in any way. http://www.corestandards.org/terms-of-use   To illustrate, even a member of the state school board couldn’t do anything more than pull her grandkids out of public school to deal with the situation.  The school board member home schooled her 8th grade grandson and 9th grade granddaughter this year, “since our school district had decided to adopt the Common Core for every grade rather than what was proposed by the state. It was proposed that we only adopt for the 6th and 9th grade and provide alternative programs for those students who already had the skills being taught to all through the Common Core.” http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/state-and-local-school-board-perceptions-of-common-core-differ-13-2/

Additionally, any changes (up to 15%) that Utah makes to the national standards will never be taken into account on the common standardized tests.  The test developer, WestEd, affirmed that “in order for this system to have a real impact within a state, the state will need to adopt the CCSS, i.e., not have two sets of standards.”


Anecdotally: those Utah teachers who love Common Core confuse the academic standards themselves with the methodologies being used to implement them.  New methodologies in many cases are excellent, but have nothing to do with national standards.  They are used in non-Common Core states.  Innovative methodologies that work well are not tied to the common national standards, which are only academic levels that could just as easily be higher or lower, and can still be taught free of Common Core’s rules, using the good methodologies.

Utah has lost its autonomy over standards and assessments. The next time Utah reviews standards and wishes to raise the bar, what will happen? There is no CCSS amendment process.  Also, since most states joined Common Core, and we’re virtually all the same; where is the collaboration, competition or better example to aspire to?

The common national standards were adopted due to federal recommendations during the initial Race to the Top application for funding for federal money.  Fortunately, since Utah didn’t receive the money, we can escape Common Core without serious financial problems. And we should.  Despite the letter of March 7, 2012 from Arne Duncan, stating “states have the sole right to set learning standards,” legally binding documents conflict with that Constitutional right, as well as with Duncan’s promises and with the Cooperative Agreement Duncan made with the SBAC.

When the Dept. of Education forced states to choose between No Child Left Behind and Common Core, they proved that Common Core is just the next federal program.

The ESEA Flexibility releases “waiver winning” states from No Child Left Behind law, only on conditions of implementing Common Core.  On page 8 of the ESEA Flexibility document (updated June 7, 2012)  found at  http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility, please read:   “A State’s college- and career-ready standards must be either (1) standards that are common to a significant number of States; or (2) standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education”.

Thus, since Utah chose option one, we are stuck in Common Core by choosing to accept the NCLB waiver. On page 9 of the same document, we read:

“ ‘Standards that are common to a significant number of States’ means standards that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium that includes a significant number of States.  A State may supplement such standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for a content area. ”

Utah not only has to stick with the Common Core State Standards by having accepted NCLB; we also are restricted from adding to “our” standards.

3. Utah applied for, but fortunately did not receive a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant.   This means Utah can leave Common Core without having to pay back a grant, something that some other states wishing to flee Common Core’s entanglements cannot do.

But, because the SBAC did receive a large RTTT grant for assessment development and because Utah is a member of SBAC, we are bound to the federal government’s data collection rules and the national standards/assessments, with Washington State our fiscal agent as long as we remain an SBAC member.

The Department of Education first incentivized the adoption of the Common Core, and then incentivized adoption of national testing.  Utah is under obligations associated with the SBAC grant as long as we remain a member of that consortium.

Exiting the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium system requires getting federal approval.  But if Utah withdraws from the consortium via the formal exit process, we will then no longer be obligated to share data with the federal government and share nationally synchronized tests, but we will still be allowed to share data with the federal government under the new FERPA regulatory changes, unless EPIC wins their lawsuit against the Dept. of Education this year.

To sum up: Common Core is very similar to Obamacare.  Governor Herbert said very eloquently that Obama’s  “Affordable Care Act imposes a one-size-fits-all plan on all states, effectively driving us to the lowest common denominator. It results in burdensome regulation, higher costs, and a massive, budget-busting… expansion.”   If you substitute the word “Common Core” for “Affordable Care Act,” you’ll understand what the federal education push is all about.  The Federal Government did not initiate both the educational and the medical programs, but does control both.

-Christel Swasey


fact vs. myth

Email Exchange with Dixie Allen on the State Board

Paul Rolly gives new meaning to the word spin after publishing an article in the SL Tribune today indicating that I got into a “vicious e-mail exchange” with Dixie Allen of the State School Board and that I became “unhinged”. So I decided I should publish the email exchange since it’s obvious that others are floating the exchange around and it now needs to be seen in full light.

Mr. Rolly also makes several false assumptions in his article such as saying this is a right-wing movement. It is not. There are Democrats I have corresponded with such as Lynn Stoddard, a respected retired educator who has been outspoken against Common Core for its inability to individualize education for students.  Lynn just had an op-ed published in the Deseret News which I encourage everyone to read. (link)

It’s humorous as well that Mr. Rolly says we’ve “[requested] volumes of records” when in fact we have had to dig and find documents ourselves on state and federal websites to put together a picture of the federal plan to nationalize education.

Mr. Rolly also says Carol Lear denies saying what I quote her saying below, but that came directly from communication she had in April 2012 acting in her capacity as the legal counsel for the USOE to Utah school teacher Christel Swasey. (link)

In April of this year the State School Board held a public forum to listen to public concerns on Common Core. After announcing how they wanted public input, they worked to stack the deck with UEA, PTA, and school teachers to come speak in favor of the Common Core and not actually let the public air their full concerns.

At this event, they passed out a flier with what they labeled fact and fiction, taking everything that parents such as myself have raised concerned over and calling them fiction, while listing their own explanations as fact. In their “fact” sections they didn’t reference a single document. Over the next couple days, Utah school teacher Christel Swasey wrote a rebuttal to their flier and listed numerous documents in support of the evidence as to why they were wrong. I then posted the rebuttal online and sent this first email below to the State School Board, Superintendent Shumway, and legislators. Here is the full exchange.


Dear State School Board and USOE,

Having seen your full color flier on Common Core this past week, a Utah teacher has prepared a full rebuttal based on documented facts, and challenges you to refute it.







It is so unfortunate that you feel the need to tear down policy, procedure and curriculum rather than build on what can work and move forward.  I want so to build on what is good and improve on that which is not working.  We need to prepare our students to be capable of working in a world economy and striking out against anything that may improve our curriculum because it comes outside Utah only undermines our chances to prepare our students for the world they are inheriting.

Regardless, I will take the credible concerns from teachers, parents and students and work to improve on our curriculum and support systems to the degree we can afford to do with the dollars and structure we have available.

Would love to have you work with us, instead of against us.



Hi Dixie,

So far our concerns have fallen on completely deaf ears. Nobody at the USOE or state board has given any validity to what we’ve brought up.  These concerns have been called lies and misrepresentations, or dismissed as “fiction” in official documents by the State Office and Board.  I wouldn’t exactly call that seeking to work with us, especially considering that our facts are backed up by actual documents while the board flier passed out last Thursday didn’t have a single reference to back up your “facts.” We would love to have our concerns receive serious and honest answers but, so far, that’s not been the case.




Maybe that is because we don’t have time to chase all your conspiracy issues down — we are too busy making sure we have our curriculum in place, assessment that correctly assesses the curriculum, quality instruction in every classroom, evaluations of teachers and principals to insure such quality instruction and support from our legislature to properly fund the system.  We do not have time to chase the conspiracy issues that you and others keep bringing to our table.  We are absolutely convinced that this adoption of core standards is a step in the right direction and regardless of your issues, we will be working hard to amend, improve, add to and assess these standards — rather than wasting time trying to answer all the questions that have no bearing on the quality of education we are providing.

That’s what I wish you were working for.




We know the board is busy and the state office as well, and yet we’re not even asking you to do a ton of research. We’ve done it for you and are just providing it to you. It’s quite stunning that you would call our concerns conspiracy theories when they come right out of documents the state office has filed or direct quotes from officials that are well aware of what’s going on.

For example, is it a conspiracy theory that Larry Shumway went on Rod Arquette’s radio show and announced that he’s concerned how President Obama and Secretary Duncan are taking credit for the Common Core standards and how the DoEd is already pressuring the state in some way associated with the standards? https://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/utah-state-superintendent-admits-to-federal-pressure-on-cc/

Is it a conspiracy theory that Retired Appellate Judge Norman Jackson reviewed the documents we have concerns with and said:

“What is the role of the federal government in Common Core standards implementation? According to proponents of the standards, the federal government has had NO role in their implementation. Concerned citizens, including mothers and teachers, have done their homework and conclude the opposite. They asked me to examine the contracts. Based on my examination of three underlying contract documents—I concur with the citizens.”

“In 2010, the State of Utah (Executive Branch) joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. In 2011, the Consortium signed a Cooperative Contract with the U. S. Department of Education. These contracts legally bind Utah to proceed with implementation of the Federal Common Core Standards.” ?

Is it a conspiracy theory when we say the standards are not great and Utah doesn’t currently have the right to modify them and then USOE legal counsel Carol Lear says, “The whole point is to get to a place where there is a ‘common core’ – that would mean the same standards for all the states that adopt it.  If the states had the freedom to ‘disagree’ and ‘change’ them, I guess they would no longer be ‘common’.”  ?

The problem we face is that everyone at the state who claims to value local control is so busy with so many things, they don’t want to hear from concerned citizens who have spent literally hundreds of hours researching what’s going on. It’s easy to dismiss someone else’s concerns when you label them liars and conspiracy theorists, but that doesn’t do anything to build the relationships of cooperation you claim to value.




I guess what I am saying is — We have heard your message and are working hard to be sure we are doing what is appropriate to move forward and support quality education for the students of the state.  You do not need to keep beating us over the head with the same message.



At this point one of the legislators who had been following along emailed this response.


Hello Dixie,

I have been following this ongoing conversation between you and Oak Norton. I am disappointed that a state employee would be as dis-respectful to a private citizen as you have been to Mr. Norton.  I appreciate citizens who contact the state regarding issues that could impact the education of our children.  Could you please help me understand your hostile attitude toward Mr. Norton? His emails present legitimate issues and concerns with common core.  Wouldn’t it be better to respond with rebuttals that qualify and support Utah State Office of Education positions on these issues rather than attacking people as conspiracy theorists.

Rep Mike Noel

P.S.  Retired Judge Norman Jackson is a solid citizen and a good friend


This email was followed by another representative making this comment and Rep. Noel’s final response.



I believe that Dixie should be able to express her opinion as a state employee or as a private citizen. We should be able to get input from anyone and everyone regardless of their employment.  If Dixie wants to share her opinion with us on any issue, I welcome it.

Representative Jim Bird


Hello Jim

I agree that Dixie can share her personal opinions as can any state employee or any member of the USOE or State School Board.  However, I strongly believe that state employees when dealing with their customers (the public) have an obligation to be professional and to answer inquiries from the public in a professional manner.  I am sure you agree that we don’t want state employees treating members of the public, and especially your constituents, in a rude condescending manner.    I think you are stretching it to say Mrs. Allen is responding to Mr. [Norton] from a personal point of view.   Read her statements, she is expressing the opinions of the USOE and from her position as the Vice Chairman of the State School Board.   When she assumes that role, she is no longer afforded the option of being disrespectful to those that may offer a different opinion on what I consider is an important issue.  FYI, I also don’t think Dixie was sharing her opinion with you or me or any of us, I think she was responding to a request for a policy review of the implementation of Common Core to Mr. [Norton].  I was actually interested in seeing what the official response was going to be from USOE and the Board, as opposed to … stop pestering us with your conspiracy theories.  Have a nice day.


[Rep Mike Noel]


That’s the “vicious” and “unhinged” attack in all its gore. Mr. Rolly sure weaves a fancy spin of events to marginalize people. Maybe the SL Tribune headline was properly titled after all. :)

Rolly: Rotten to the Core