Utah’s Political Calculations Could Put Students and Teachers at a Disadvantage

Late last week, Utah Governor Gary Herbert again urged the state Board of Education to replace the Common Core, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong—we’re past that,” Gov. Herbert argued. “Let’s transition to something better.”

However, the evidence from the few states that have taken the “repeal-and-replace” path makes clear that replacing the Common Core State Standards inevitably leads to either inferior academic standards, or, a rebranding of the Common Core. A recent white paper by the Collaborative for Student Success notes:

“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)…

“Meanwhile, most states’ commitment to rigorous college- and career-ready expectations through the Common Core is having a demonstrable lift on schools. A report released in January by Achieve found a majority of states have raised proficiency benchmarks by implementing challenging education standards and high-quality assessments.”

Earlier this month the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board wrote that Gov. Herbert caved to an “irrational fear of education monsters,” unnecessarily subjecting classrooms to uncertainty and disruption. “The campaign platforms of [gubernatorial challenger Jonathan] Johnson and, now, Herbert do little to improve our efforts [to assess students] and instead sadly surrender to the uneducated fears too many of us harbor about education.”

A 2014 review of Utah’s Common Core Standards, led by the state Attorney General, concluded that the standards do not undermine local control. “Utah’s authority over its standards and curriculum has not, and will not, be ceded to the federal government …Additionally, the Board affirms school district and charter boards’ statutory control in setting their own curriculum,” the Utah Board of Education said following the 2014 review.

The state Board of Education voted Friday to accelerate a regular review of the state’s education standards and to replace the SAGE assessment, which is aligned to the Common Core. Gov. Herbert acknowledged any changes could build on the Common Core framework—as several other states have done.

However, as an analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success points out, the threat of repealing the Common Core creates uncertainty for teachers and students. “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.”