Opposition to the Common Core standards for public education is based largely on concerns that the federal government is over-reaching into areas best managed by state and local entities. Such concern does not constitute a rational reason for Utah to pass on adopting the common standards.
Forty-six states have now agreed to use the benchmarks for measuring success in mathematics and English language arts for students in kindergarten through high school. Choosing to remain disconnected from those standards won't benefit Utah school kids, and won't send any meaningful message to Washington about staying out of local affairs.
The standards are not the results of a federal mandate. They are the by-product of a collaborative effort led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bring uniformity to educational objectives. They do not dictate curriculum, but set basic expectations of what learning students should receive in order to be prepared for careers and college education.
Opponents have targeted Common Core as an example of the federal government's intrusion into state and local business. Some see the standards as a framework to impose a progressive agenda on public education. Whether it becomes such depends on the long-term implementation of the benchmarks. To that end, it is positive that so many Utah parents and teachers have become involved in the discussion over Common Core. They need to remain involved and vigilant.
The vast majority of educators see the Common Core as a simple, voluntary set of guidelines that allows them to devise curricula to better prepare their students beyond public school. The Utah State School Board of Education has vigorously recommended adoption of the standards, and says opposition is based on "erroneous information."
That is not to discount concerns that Washington has or may move in a heavy-handed way to push the Common Core. Of particular concern would be any efforts to tie federal school funding directly to achieving the benchmarks. Currently, there are no such plans, other than to offer potential monetary incentives tied to Common Core achievement. Care must be taken to ensure than any such incentive system doesn't translate into de facto punishment for schools that don't live up to the standards, as defined by some method of bureaucratic measurement.
At the same time, it is important to have accountability in the education system, and there is no simple way to hold educators accountable for the progress of their students without some system of measurement. The critical question is not where such standards originate, but whether they are fair, applicable across the board and that they set the bar at an appropriately high level.
It is critical that Utah policy leaders work to establish a framework for excellence in public education. There is no evidence beyond misplaced suspicion that the Common Core standards will hamper that effort. The critical question isn't whether any standards for achievement reach too far, but whether they reach far enough.