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Common Core conspiracies abound in Utah, not based in reality

By C.K. Jones

Published: Wednesday, July 18 2012 10:20 a.m. MDT

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A simple Internet search on the words "common core" will yield a wealth of information, some of it credible. Add the words "conspiracy" or "FERPA" or the prefix "anti-" and links from Utah fill the screen. What's going on?

The same thing that happens between every legislative session: a few folks latch onto the latest "freedoms-threatened" conspiracy; the Eagle Forum and Sutherland Institute see yet another opening to seize the issue as another opportunity to push for control of curriculum; the battle is engaged to enlist like-minded legislators and intimidate level-headed ones.

In the past few years, we've seen extremists try to control sex-ed, accuse BYU of socialist leanings, push for Cleon Skousen's books as texts and enlist Chris Buttars to re-write the state constitution.

This year, the fear-mongers have decided the Common Core Initiative, a multi-state effort to establish national educational standards, is the bogeyman they will use. Even though the initiative began years ago, it is, they claim, a federal conspiracy to force a national curriculum on local school boards.

Their evidence? The president and U.S. Department of Education support it. The fact that is also supported by 46 states - the majority led by such Republican stalwarts as Daniels, Bush and Christie, is lost on them. Because the current administration has decided these national standards are far superior to the disastrous No Child Left Behind, they must be "evil," a word actually used in e-mails to elected public servants who have dedicated lives to improving the education of Wasatch County's children.

Claims that Gov. Herbert and the Utah State Board of Education have locked Utah into a federal takeover of local education were dismissed by our attorney general. A lawyer brought to Salt Lake by Common Core opponents said that although he personally believed the goal was a national curriculum, there was no evidence the feds are directly involved in developing materials or curriculum.

When opponents fail to convince on that front, they claim sharing student data for research purposes done under strict rules is an invasion of privacy. Opponents know goals not measured are goals not met. And they can't risk data being compiled that shows improvement.

Or they claim the new standards require replacing literature with informational texts. They claim that our students will be required to study computer manuals instead of Shakespeare. A little study reveals that what has happened in the classroom is students are now studying the Constitution in addition to Shakespeare. Some are also reading Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream." Uh oh.

They try to scare us with cost estimates, using California, that bastion of fiscal responsibility, as the example. Or they claim teachers hate it, but are afraid to say so because they found a few educators who share their political views. In fact, teachers helped develop the new standards and the many not afraid to speak up are excited about the challenge and opportunities.

If I were a conspiratorialist, I might concoct a fantasy in which home-schoolers, private-school owners and voucher proponents stand to gain from weaker public schools. They may finally achieve their goal of dipping into public funds to promote private businesses. That may explain why a show of hands at the recent anti-core standards forum revealed that one-fifth of the concerned audience were home-schoolers.

Utahns should be concerned if even one legislator who attended one-sided forums in recent days were persuaded to engage in yet another attempt to wrest curriculum from local school boards and control of education from the state board of education where it rightly resides under Utahs Constitution.

In addition to some offensive quasi-religious emails bombarding Wasatch County School Board members are some ridiculous accusations that the board is somehow benefiting at the expense of children. What would they have to gain? Who has anything to gain from seeing the local and national education systems flounder?

The real motives of such vehement opposition to this most recent attempt to improve our schools escapes me. We need to improve education to compete in a worldwide economy. It seems new standards which credible third parties have determined are an improvement may help. Under-resourced and overly busy local school boards are not the venue for hyped-up battles with the federal government. And, hopefully, legislators have the courage to ignore this nonsense this year.

C.K. Jones is a resident of Heber City and the husband of a Wasatch County School Board member.

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