Utah Governor Risks Putting Schools on a Costly Path of Uncertainty, Lower Standards

Utah Governor Gary Herbert called on the state Board of Education to get rid of the state’s Common Core Standards and mandatory SAGE testing for high school students on Wednesday, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards,” Gov. Herbert wrote in a letter to the Board, “moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The move came amid criticism from Gov. Herbert’s gubernatorial challenger, Jonathan Johnson, who “erroneously [describes] the standards as a federal program,” the article reports. By caving to political pressure, Gov. Herbert could put Utah classrooms on a path of disruption and uncertainty, and subject the state’s teachers and students to inferior academic expectations.

Last year, Karen Nussle explained the pitfall of replacing the Common Core for political gain: “It is virtually impossible to produce a set of K-12 academic standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare student for college and career.”

The outcomes from the states to take the ill-advised “repeal-and-replace” path—Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina—reaffirm Nussle’s position.

“Replacing the Common Core State Standards invariably leads to either modest adjustments and renaming—effectively “rebranding” the Common Core (as in both Indiana and South Carolina)—or, academic standards that are inferior to the Common Core (as in Oklahoma),” a white paper by the Collaborative for Student Success concludes.

In late 2014, Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, explained Common Core State Standards build on the best indicators of what students need to know to ultimately graduate high school prepared for college or a career, making it impossible to build better education standards from whole cloth.

“Common Core, though not perfect, represents a good-faith effort to incorporate the current evidence of what students need to know and do to succeed in credit-bearing courses in college or to land a good-paying job…That’s why states that are sincere about wanting to aim higher would be smart to start with Common Core as a base for additions or modifications.”

In response to Gov. Herbert’s request, David Crandall, chairman of the Utah Board of Education, said officials regularly review the state’s education standards. “No set of standards is perfect, and we always look for more ways to improve upon them.”

That may be an encouraging sign Utah officials will have the good judgment to review and refine Utah’s Common Core Standards, a path many states have taken.