Utah GOP convention agenda includes vote on Common Core

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

The Common Core is a series of academic benchmarks aimed at preparing students for higher education. They have been voluntarily adopted by 46 states, including Utah, in the subjects of mathematics and English language arts, but have come under fire by groups who view the standards as an intrusion into local control by the federal government.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of the Common Core State Standards are taking their fight to Utah's Republican Party, asking delegates to vote on a strongly worded resolution opposing the new educational benchmarks at the party's organizing committee this Saturday.

The resolution, submitted by Cherilyn Eagar, calls for Utah's withdrawal from the Common Core and asks the state Legislature to potentially hold back funding that could be used in conjunction with the standards.

"Therefore be it resolved, that we call on the governor and the Utah State School Board to withdraw from, and we ask the Utah State Legislature to discontinue funding programs in association with the Common Core State Standards Initiative/Utah’s Core and any other alliance that promotes and tests for un-American and inferior curricula, standards and assessments," the resolution states.

But Eagar's resolution comes with a caveat from a GOP committee appointed to review this year's proposals. The three-member resolutions committee passed down an unfavorable recommendation due to what members deemed to be "inaccurate or misleading data that is inflammatory in nature."

"It is not an expression against Common Core or for Common Core," Kitty Dunn, who chaired the committee, said of the unfavorable recommendation. "It was simply that some of the information that was presented in the resolution was not factual."

The committee's disclaimer also follows a resolution passed earlier this month by the State School Board, in which the state's top education officials urged Utah's lawmakers to "resist the demands calling to 'remove Utah from the Common Core' based on erroneous information."

Eagar, a former U.S. Senate candidate, said she is not discouraged by the GOP committee's unfavorable recommendation.

"It really has very little impact on the outcome of a resolution," she said. "It was three people that were appointed to review the resolution and we have such a huge following."

The Common Core is a series of academic benchmarks aimed at preparing students for higher education. They have been voluntarily adopted by 46 states, including Utah, in the subjects of mathematics and English language arts, but have come under fire by groups who view the standards as an intrusion into local control by the federal government.

In the resolution, the Common Core is described as a binding agreement that bypassed the state Legislature, a violation of state and federal privacy laws, undermining to teachers and parents and contrary to American and Republican ideals.

Eagar said her opposition to the standards is focused on what she sees as a loss of local control, a decline in academic excellence and a potential loss of privacy. She said the Common Core is the latest piece of a larger national trend that has seen education shift from a focus on academic learning to an emphasis on workforce and skills training.

"We’ve lowered the basketball standard so that everyone can make a basket and that harms everyone," she said. "I’m a former teacher, I know from experience that when I expect the very best from my students and I don’t try to play to the middle, that the kids who are maybe the slower students are really encouraged to do better."

But Common Core supporters maintain that the standards represent an increase in academic rigor and leave control of classroom curriculum in local hands. Chet Linton, CEO and president of the School Improvement Network, praised the standards, saying they are designed to increase the global effectiveness of U.S. schools and are an improvement to Utah's previous educational benchmarks.

"Common Core raises academic rigor to new heights for the state of Utah," he said. "The standards were designed to push students and teachers to higher levels of achievement, helping students be truly ready for college or (for a) career."

Following the passage of the State School Board's resolutions, board vice-chairman David Crandall said the board had acted out of a desire to provide clarity on the many misconceptions surrounding the Core. He said much of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of what the Common Core standards are, in that many falsely assume that federal powers will dictate the day-to-day decisions of a classroom.

"How the individual districts implement that and what specific readings they have (students) do, what books they have and what they include in their curriculum are completely up to the local school districts and charter schools," Crandall said. "Ultimately, what it comes down to is we want students to be career and college ready."

But Eagar, a former educator, said she and the thousands of Utahns who have signed petitions against the Common Core hold no such misconceptions.

"I believe that the standards are lowered standards. I don’t believe, I know; I have seen them," she said. "The mere fact that the State Board felt the need to create a counter-resolution in their own body would indicate that they are well-aware that we are moving forward and have great momentum."

Eagar said Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is planning to speak in favor of her resolution during Saturday's convention. Common Core opponents also plan to distribute a brochure to delegates with supporting signatures from the remaining Republican members of Utah's federal delegation.

She said her biggest concern is not that support for the resolution is insufficient, but whether time will allow for a vote to be held at all.

"As these conventions typically go, it is never quite certain that the delegates will have the patience to stick around for the resolutions, which are typically tacked on to the end of the agenda," she said.

That same impatience could also potentially work in favor of Common Core opponents. With delegate turnout at organizing conventions significantly lower than election-year nominating conventions, and with indifferent delegates feeling the pull of weekend recreation, impassioned voters could find themselves winning the war of attrition as the convention drags on.

Ivan DuBois, executive director of the Utah Republican Party, said organizing conventions are typically attended by 50 to 60 percent of the state's delegates, compared to the near-perfect turnout at nominating conventions. DuBois said attendance is always a concern and party leaders will do what they can to keep Saturday's meeting moving quickly.

"We want everyone to attend but we can’t make them attend," he said. "The more people who are there to vote the more representative it is."

In discussing the unfavorable recommendation by the reviewing committee, Dunn was adamant that the committee's action was in no way binding and committee members would not lobby delegates to vote one way or the other.

"These delegates are going to do exactly what they want to do," she said.

But she also said the role of the committee is to shed some light on the measures being considered by the party.

"We want to protect the party from the embarrassment of passing a resolution that contains information that is not factual," he said. "So it’s our responsibility to let the party know that."

When asked about Eagar's resolution during Wednesday's meeting of the Education Interim Committee, State School Board Chairwoman Debra Roberts told lawmakers that the Common Core had been properly vetted and determined to be a benefit to Utah schools.

"I’m concerned that there’s so much misinformation and so much chatter about something that should be viewed as an opportunity to move forward," she said. "I would hope that on Saturday wiser heads would prevail."

Eagar said that independent of whether the resolution succeeds or fails, Core opponents will continue to push for a total state withdrawal through legislative lobbying or polling pressure during the next State School Board election. The state adopted the Common Core in 2010 and as Eagar sees it, the fight is far from over.

"Regardless of what happens with this resolution we know that we have an enormously growing momentum and we will continue to keep going forward," she said. "Certainly there will be some legislative response and so we will be working on that."

The Common Core resolution is currently one of four scheduled to be considered at the convention, including another submitted by Eagar on the subject of Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. The full text of the resolutions is available on the Utah Republican Party website.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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