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Misinformation or monopoly of thought? Common Core opponents, supporters square off

Published: Friday, Aug. 2 2013 2:20 p.m. MDT

Porter Davidson of Payson gathers with Common Core opponents at the State Board of Education office in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 2, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters lined 500 South outside the doors of the State Office of Education Friday morning, carrying signs and at times chanting in opposition of the Common Core State Standards.

Inside, the State School Board heard those concerns repeated during the public comment portion of Friday's board meeting and afterward, State Superintendent Martell Menlove abandoned his scheduled committee meetings to hold court with a small group of parents.

"You must talk with us, we must have an open dialogue," said Alisa Ellis, who has long been involved in anti-Common Core advocacy. "The Common Core nonsense is creating a monopoly. Not just a monopoly of curriculum but a monopoly of thought."

About 100 people took part in Friday's demonstration, which was called in response to what protesters said was an intent by the Office of Education to launch a pro-Common Core campaign on Friday.

But Menlove said the board was not attempting to "sell" Common Core to voters and taxpayers, but simply had a responsibility to ensure that accurate information was being relayed to the public.

The discussion on Common Core lasted two hours, during which a number of questions – oft-repeated in the several years that led up to and followed the state's adoption of the Common Core Standards for math and English language arts – were posed to the state's top education officials.

"I think we've got a group that has entrenched themselves in opposition to the core curriculum and said 'we're not going to believe anything you say irrespective of whoever says it'," said Kory Holdaway, a former state lawmaker and now government relations director for the Utah Education Association. "I don't think you're ever going to see that group go away, frankly."

Menlove said it appears ideological opposition to big government had caused some individuals to erroneously affiliate non-Common Core elements with the standards, such as student data collection – mandated by No Child Left Behind – and computer adaptive testing – a 21st-century assessment model independently pursued by the state.

"I think there are a lot of things out there that many of us are concerned with and I think people are inappropriately tying some of those things to Common Core simply because it seems to be something we can rally about and be against," Menlove said.

But Common Core opponents insist that the blame for misinformation lies with the State Office of Education and backers of the Common Core standards. At several points during Friday's discussion they requested of Menlove – often interrupting him while speaking – that implementation be halted to allow for continued debate and consideration.

Lisa Cummins accused school board members of "falling hook, line and sinker to sell our children's souls" and said she was committed to defending her children from the "tyrannical jurisdiction" of the State Board of Education.

"If you insist on collecting my student's data you had better come with a warrant," she said.

Siri Davidson, a mother of five who drove from Payson with her children to attend Friday's gathering, said she had decided to home school her children because of Common Core.

"We feel like this is absolutely unacceptable for the state office to do this to us," she said. "They're calling it rigorous, I'll tell you what it is: stupid."

But Steven Harper, an Olympus Junior High English teacher and adjunct professor at Salt Lake Community College, attended Friday's board meeting to show his support for the Common Core.

"The Common Core Standards are a necessary upgrade," he said. "They're goalposts to help those who actually know the students in their classroom."

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