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John Florez: Utah leaders lack confidence, lose public trust

Published: Saturday, July 26 2014 4:33 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, July 26 2014 4:33 p.m. MDT

Now the governor wants another committee to study academic standards — and that is not his responsibility. It makes Utah’s leaders appear to lack confidence and explains why public education is in constant chaos.

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Oh, no, not another committee!

Now the governor wants another committee to study academic standards — and that is not his responsibility. Under the state constitution, the Utah State Board of Education is responsible for control over education; however, board members seem more than happy to let the governor further muck up Utah education. It makes Utah’s leaders appear to lack confidence and explains why public education is in constant chaos.

The governor also has directed the Utah attorney general's office to review the state's adoption of the Common Core State Standards. What’s to review? Legislative general counsel reviewed the matter in 2012 with the Interim Education Committee, indicating the state could opt out of the Common Core standards. Sen. Howard Stephenson has said, “These standards are in harmony with Utah values.” The standards were started in 2009 by leaders that included the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), parents and educators — not the federal government.

In January 2011, the governor said he supported the Common Core standards adopted by the Utah State Board of Education last year and endorsed by his Education Excellence Commission, composed of legislators, employers and a host of so-called stakeholders. He said the Common Core is not a “socialistic program foisted upon us by the federal government.”

However, the governor has now decided to appoint another committee because of the heat his office has received over the Common Core standards. He said, “We are going to settle this question once and for all.” When asked how the current review would differ from the past, he said, “I don’t know that it’s exactly different; I think it is just timely. ... Whatever has been done in the past has not resolved the dispute.” Well, he had his Education Excellence Commission to do that. How’s that working?

Besides, that is not his responsibility, and he should demand the timid state school board members do their duty. They were who asked for and received a waiver from the feds from complying with No Child Left Behind so Utah could have local control in developing its own academic standards, which included Common Core. They retooled the system accordingly and at great expense. Now, they are balking at asking to renew the waiver, which would require they dump the whole program, including SAGE testing. Now they sit waiting for anyone to bail them out and are wasting public money.

This whole costly and meaningless exercise exemplifies what John W. Gardner once said about the failure of confidence in leaders: “Lacking such confidence, too many leaders ... require that the question be put through a series of clearances within the organization and let the clearance process settle it. Or take a public opinion poll and let the poll settle it ... hoping that out of them will come unassailable support for one course of action rather than another.”

All these gyrations our Utah leaders go through to avoid making a decision are beyond belief. This latest self-created brouhaha shows what seems to be their lack of confidence and courage to make a decision. It seems they have little regard for the public’s intelligence. Had the state school board followed through on its commitment, and had the governor not felt he had to interfere and appoint another committee to deflect a little public heat, this never would have happened.

It shows how our leaders seem more concerned about keeping their jobs than looking after taxpayer money, government integrity and, more important, the education of our children.

John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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