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My view: Nothing sinister about Common Core

By David Thomas

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In an effort to improve our nation's education system and make students better prepared for college and careers, a new set of standards is now sweeping across classrooms throughout the United States. It's an approach call the Common Core and it has been heavily discussed at the Education Nation summit.

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In a June 13 My View column, Christel Swasey made various allegations against the state school board ("Common Core an assault on liberties" June 13). While I certainly appreciate Swasey's right of free speech, I take exception to both her tone and accuracy.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) was launched by the National Governor's Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), both private organizations under the control of the state governors and superintendents, in coordination with 48 state school boards, in an effort to upgrade educational standards in mathematics and English/language arts (ELA). The CCSSI brought together a wide variety of public and private entities, both Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, moderates and liberals were all invited. What a unique group — from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Chris Christie to the Gates Foundation. All came together to work in collaboration on one goal: elevating our educational standards.

The standards were not written in a smoke-filled back room, but were written by work teams and feedback groups consisting of 136 of the top scholars and professionals in education. There were two 30-day public comment periods and over 10,000 public comments were received. A validation committee consisting of 28 experts gave a final review of the standards with 24 out of the 28 approving them.

The Fordham Institute found that the Common Core State Standards are comparable or superior to standards in 48 states, including Utah. The standards are internationally benchmarked and steeped in the "best practices" of the states. Instead of escalating the math wars between algorithmists and constructivists, Common Core takes an integrated approach. A good example of an integrated math approach is Singapore Math. In ELA, literature, including the classics, is still required, but there is also emphasis on informational texts, as is done in the best performing nations of the world, like Finland. For far too long we have been mired down in mediocrity. The Common Core State Standards Initiative elevates our sights to new horizons.

Can the standards be amended? Yes. The public license does not prohibit amendments and the state board is in the process of amending even as we speak — cursive writing is being added. It's important to understand that before the state board adopted the standards in August 2010, we held a public comment period during July, culminating nearly 15 months of study, collaboration and outreach. The state Legislature has been informed of the progress of the Common Core since day one. There is nothing secret, nor sinister about the Common Core. It has been heavily vetted. The state board adopts standards on every subject in K-12 on a 5-7 year cycle. Consequently, there are no foreseeable additional costs associated with the Common Core. It's important to understand also that the Common Core is not a test, nor is it curriculum (teaching methods or textbooks) or a student database. The Common Core is a set of grade appropriate standards articulating what students should know.

While the CCSSI threw out as broad a net as possible to invite everyone to work together on a common goal, there is one party that was intentionally excluded — the federal government. Certainly the feds have tried to intrude into the Common Core through Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, but the standards remain a state led effort and Utah will never give control of our standards to the federal government.

I invite you to visit the state board's blog at www.utahpublicschools.org or the state office website at www.schools.utah.gov and find out for yourself.

David L. Thomas is a member of the Utah State Board of Education and a former Republican state senator from South Weber.

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