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Is Utah smart to take part in the ‘Smarter Balanced’ Common Core education Consortia?

SHARE Is Utah smart to take part in the ‘Smarter Balanced’ Common Core education Consortia?

In 2010, Utah and other states rushed to join the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, or SBAC, for two reasons. First, to escape the strictures imposed on educators and students by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Second, to receive federal money the Obama administration promised to disburse from stimulus funding. President Barack Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan then offered "waivers" from No Child Left Behind with grants as incentives for states to develop their own "Common Core Education Standards."

However, this was a bait and switch program because the waivers pushed states into "Federal Common Core Education Standards" regarding testing and assessments. Some states, including Utah, are now taking various measures to opt out or step away from the federal standards.

Utah has made two moves to pull away. First, Utah enacted SB287 at the end of the 2012 session attempting to limit our participation. Second, our State Board of Education has placed on its August action agenda a recommendation to change our SBAC status from governing to advisory member.

To counter these moves by states, Duncan is now dealing directly with local school districts to adopt the federal standards. Because both federal and state governments have adopted "Common Core" as the name for their respective standards, their disparate "core" education programs have become as "ships passing in the night." For example, on May 23 a Utah school district foundation announced receipt of a federal grant for its "Fully Integrated Common Core Project." It proudly reported, "The standards have been informed by the best available evidence and the highest state standards across the country and the globe. ... States can choose whether to adopt them ?— the Utah Department of Education adopted them." Obviously, confusion reigns regarding who is really in charge. Further, those destined to suffer most are students and parents.

On April 28, Mary McConnell, an educator and a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, published an excellent column titled, "Why the rush into new school core standards?" She noted, "The social studies and science standards haven't been published yet. Neither have the tests." She concluded with three pertinent questions: "Why not stand up to the bullying, slow down the process and debate these standards more thoroughly? Why not wait for a look at these new tests before we spend millions on textbooks and professional development? Why not try out the standards and their accompanying assessments in a few states that are willing to deploy the resources and take the heat?

AccountabilityWorks has conducted extensive cost studies on these federal initiatives. They project costs of $16 billion over seven years for 45 states and the District of Columbia. These additional costs are nearly four times the amount of Obama's Race to the Top grant awards. State and local taxpayers will pay 90 percent of the bill for K-12 public education. This amounts to an enormous unfunded federal mandate.

Further, there are serious concerns about whether these standards will work for students. Some Common Core validation experts have written that the Common Core Standards don't deserve a passing grade. Regarding the proposed literature and reading standards in grades 9-12, they state that the standards do not prepare students for college and career better than those already adopted by California and Massachusetts. Regarding the proposed Mathematics Standards, they state, the "draft-writers chose to navigate an uncharted path." Accordingly, they will not prepare more high school students for authentic college-level work.

Thus, if Common Core won't work for Utah's students — don't buy it. That would be the smart thing to do.

Norman H. Jackson is a retired Utah Court of Appeals judge.