Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — In a case of political déjà vu, opponents of the Common Core State Standards gathered Tuesday at the Utah Capitol to urge the action of state lawmakers.
The rally came seven months after a similar event last year, with many of the same accusations repeated against what is seen by opponents as a federal intrusion into the Beehive State's management of public education.
But this year's buzzing came with a particularly sharp sting. With most of the Utah Legislature up for election this year, rally attendees made it clear they are more than willing to clean house at the polls come November.
"We expect Utah legislators to take action. We expect you to listen to the people," said rally organizer and anti-Common Core advocate Alisa Ellis. "This is an election year. We are taking note of who is with us and who is not, and we will be making our voices heard in the voting booth."
The Common Core is a series of educational benchmarks, voluntarily adopted and designed to prepare students for postsecondary education and career training. They specify the minimum skills a student should learn in each grade and have been adopted by all but five states.
School districts in Utah began using the standards in classrooms several years ago, but this spring marks the first time that year-end testing will be fully aligned with the English language arts and math sections of the Common Core.
Similar statewide standards exist for most academic subject areas. Those standards, together with the math and English portions of the Common Core, make up what is known as the Utah Core.
But some see the Common Core as a creeping national takeover of local education. Instead of voluntary adoption, they see a decision based on manipulation and the enticement of federal dollars. Instead of consistent educational benchmarks, they see a surreptitious attempt to dictate curriculum.
"This is outrageous," organizer Christel Swasey said. "This takes away our humanity. It is an affront to our souls. It is wrong."
Roughly 400 people gathered for the event, filling every available chair and standing in a ring around the Capitol's Hall of Governors.
The crowd included many Utah parents and their children, as well as representatives from some of the state's conservative lobbying organizations. Among the groups that make up the Utahns Against Common Core coalition are the Utah Eagle Forum, the Sutherland Institute and the LDS Home Educators Association, as well as organizations from outside the state such as the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, described the Common Core as "anti-family" and said Utah needs to act to reject the standards.
"I do not want government to regulate or indoctrinate my children or own them," he said. "They are mine. God gave them to me."
The event was attended by several state lawmakers, including three Utah County legislators who spoke during the rally: Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem; and Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove.
Dayton compared the Common Core to No Child Left Behind, which she described as a failed and unconstitutional program thrust on states by the federal government. Even if the Common Core effectively prepared students for college, Dayton said she would still oppose it because it was not developed by Utahns.
"We still do not want it because it comes from the wrong source," she said.
Greene and Layton both spoke about bills they are sponsoring in the 2014 Legislature, including a proposal by Greene to establish direct, partisan elections for State School Board members and a proposal by Layton that would alter the authority of the State School Board to establish curriculum standards for Utah's public schools.
"Where I want to end up is with Utah owning our own standards so we can decide what to do with them," Layton said.
State School Board members are currently elected through a frequently criticized process that sees two candidates placed on the ballot by the governor after the larger candidate pool is vetted and scaled down by a review committee.
Members of the State School Board support a reform of their election process, but last month reiterated that they prefer a system of nonpartisan elections.
Attendees at the rally were encouraged to contact their elected representatives and were provided with blue and green notes — slips of paper used to communicate with lawmakers during the Legislature — to be distributed during the week.
In the closing remarks of the rally, Utahns Against Common Core representative Oak Norton told attendees that lawmakers, school board members and educators need to be reminded that "they work for us."
"We need to awaken a sleeping giant that exists in all of our cities and towns," Norton said.
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