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In our opinion: It's time to scrutinize Common Core standards through rigorous review process

Published: Monday, July 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Amy Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown, Del., helps student Melody Fritz with an English language arts lesson Oct. 1, 2013. Silver Lake has implemented the national Common Core State Standards for academics.

Associated Press

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has asked the attorney general to review the state’s involvement with Common Core education standards, saying he hopes to resolve contentions. This is a worthwhile effort, as is a new website the state has built to provide information and take comments.

The governor stressed that comments on this site should address specifics about Common Core and not merely express general feelings. That’s important, as this issue often becomes muddled with misinformation.

Common Core does deserve close scrutiny, however, and it deserves to be examined in light of specific goals that may exist on the state level. In the United States, education traditionally has been a matter for local control. And while it is important to note that Common Core was a creation of educators and governors nationwide, not of Washington or federal bureaucrats, that traditional local involvement is vital to the establishment of school standards.

Herbert’s action is a more prudent and deliberate approach than what is happening in other states. Three states — Indiana, Louisiana and Oklahoma — already have dropped out of Common Core. Indiana has been criticized for subsequently adopting its own standards that closely mirror Common Core. Oklahoma, moved by that criticism, passed a law that specifies the state’s new standards must look nothing like Common Core, a measure that makes little practical sense.

The problem with Common Core lies not so much in the standards themselves (states retain considerable latitude as to how they are implemented), as in the perception that those standards originated elsewhere.

In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has signed a bill that sets in motion a review of the standards, similar to what Herbert has ordered. North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that calls for the standards to be rewritten and, in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has issued an order calling for a task force to study Common Core.

Clearly, Common Core, initially adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, is creating doubts and concerns. It makes sense to conduct a review of its effectiveness.

It is unfortunate that Utah educators and lawmakers have been unable to confront some problems with public education without the pressure of programs that originate elsewhere. The federal No Child Left Behind law, for example, was a classic example of congressional overreach into local education matters. But without it, the growing gap between white and minority student performance in Utah would not have become as clear.

Likewise, Common Core has spurred discussions about standards and comparisons with students elsewhere that otherwise might not have occurred. And yet there are enough questions about curricula, standards and procedures that it would be wrong for the governor to ignore the need to review the state’s involvement.

We’re not convinced the review will resolve all concerns in such an emotionally charged issue. But it’s essential to gather facts before further action is contemplated.

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