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New survey shows support for Common Core among local politicians

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 1:53 p.m. MDT

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SALT LAKE CITY — In the latest sign that the Common Core curriculum debate is winding down, a recent non-scientific survey of Utah political insiders shows most Republicans and almost all Democrats agree with supporters of the new educational standards for public schools.

The UtahPolicy.com/KSL Political Insiders Survey questioned 100 Republicans and 75 Democrats who are lawmakers, lobbyists, or activists within Utah’s political scene. It found that 87 percent of Democrats and 46 percent — a plurality — of Republicans support the Common Core standards.

Of the Republicans surveyed, 27 percent responded "don't know" while 21 percent  opposed Common Core.

Common Core is a set of mathematics and English language arts benchmarks for public education developed by a coalition of states to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce. Supporters hope it will lead to better student performance.

Utah has been involved in the development of the Common Core standards since 2009 and last year began implementing the standards in schools. Brenda Hales, associate superintendent for instructional services with the State Office of Education, said that for the most part, the English language arts standards have been put in place and the majority of new mathematics benchmarks will be phased in by the fall.

Still, in recent months Common Core has been the subject of debate with petitions and public forums drawing heated discussion from individuals on both sides of the issue. Hales said that much of that debate appears to be subsiding as people become educated on what the core standards really are.

"To me, it's a testament to once people understand and know the facts, then they are reassured," she said. "We're just giving people time to make the transition."

The survey asked which side of the debate was "right," and 52 percent of Republican insiders and a near-unanimous 97 percent of Democrats sided with supporters of Common Core.

The survey also asked political insiders what they think the Legislature will do — not should do — with Common Core. A majority of both parties, 68 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats, thought lawmakers will modify Common Core to reduce opposition or give schools flexibility to use or not use the standards.

Democratic attorney and survey participant Pat Shea said that would be a mistake. “The Utah Legislature thinks that they're such great auto mechanics that if you presented them with an ideal Rolls Royce or other automobile, they'd find some way of tinkering with it,” he said.

During the 2012 legislative session, lawmakers debated several bills dealing with the new standards and ultimately passed SB287, which affirms Utah's right to withdraw from the Common Core. Since then, Utah has transitioned from a governing state to a less-involved advisory state of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in an attempt to calm fears of involuntary participation in Common Core testing materials.

Hales said the office of education has worked to address the concerns of citizens, and further modifications could be made, but the idea of allowing complete flexibility for schools and school districts to use or not use the Common Core is unlikely. She said the State Board of Education is constitutionally empowered to establish curriculum and granting that degree of flexibility to schools would be difficult.

"I don't think the Legislature would want to tackle that," she said.

More importantly, Hales said that the results of the insider survey and recent meetings with lawmakers suggest that most of the concerns about Common Core are being answered and misinformation is beginning to dissipate.

During the most recent meeting of the Legislature's Education Interim Committee, staff members reviewed the Common Core and SBAC agreements entered into by the state and determined that Utah is under no legal obligation to implement the Common Core standards or use SBAC assessments. 

"I think (lawmakers) had a lot of their questions answered during their interim meeting," she said. "The majority of the Legislature are going 'OK, this is how it works.'"

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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