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My view: Clarifying criticism of Common Core

By Jennifer Johnson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

As a Utah public education policymaker, I would listen with greater credulity if there had not been misrepresented the opinions of experts regarding Common Core.

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I have a hard time believing Sandra Stotsky and Ze'ev Wurman in their criticisms of the Common Core State Standards ("This is why I oppose Common Core," July 25). In Stotsky's My View column in the Deseret News, she offered a negative opinion about the rigor of the Common Core state standards for English language arts and math. She then cited two well-respected experts, William McCallum and Jason Zimba, to support her position on the math standards. Wurman has made similar references.

However, the references being made by Wurman and Stotsky are incorrect. McCallum addressed the errors in a recent email to me, which I quote from with his permission:

"In January 2010, six months before the standards were finalized, I gave a presentation about them at the joint meetings of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America in San Diego. After the presentation, one audience member expressed a worry that the standards would be too high (as in excessively high). I replied that they would not be too high and that they would be equal to the standards of high achieving East Asian countries. In context, it was clear that I meant 'not excessively high,' but the phrase 'not too high,' taken out of context, can be interpreted colloquially as 'not very high.' This is the way Wurman, who was there, chose to misinterpret it, despite the fact that my meaning was crystal clear from the context."

Since then the phrase has taken on a life of its own. Every now and then someone sends it to me after reading it in a local news article or in propaganda distributed to legislators.

Wurman and Stotsky also misrepresented Zimba's position. Zimba explained to me in an email, which I quote with his permission:

"Stotsky's editorial was doubly wrong. It portrayed a secondhand, inaccurate summary of my remarks as a direct quotation from me. I have seen this quotation falsely attributed to me many times by Wurman and Stotsky, not only in editorials but also in testimony before several state legislatures."

I am very interested in policy discussions fed by diverse perspectives, and Stotsky and Wurman are welcome to add their own opinions. However, as a Utah public education policymaker, I would listen to them with greater credulity if they had not misrepresented the opinions of experts.

Stotsky was given notice of the error and invited to make any corrections herself. She has not given any indication that she would do so. I write this from an elected official's duty to provide correct information to the public. More information about the Utah Core Standards, including those adopted and modified from the Common Core state standards, may be found at www.utahpublicschools.org.

Jennifer Johnson is a member Utah State Board of Education. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Utah State Board of Education.

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