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My view: Utah's Constitution requires state board to exit federal waiver

By Jakell Sullivan

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

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The line that “Common Core isn’t a federal program” deserves evaluation. Presidents since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education have proudly owned their federal education initiatives. Clinton owned Goals 2000, Bush owned No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama owns — and claims — Common Core as his initiative, and supports the failed policies of outcome-based education (OBE). OBE has proven to be a failure for our children, yet every time it’s repackaged, many people believe it's a new, brilliant idea.

The important distinction between the current federal initiative and those before it, is that the law — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — wasn’t reauthorized. President Obama chose to bypass Congress and issued waivers from NCLB to states only if they would adopt Common Core standards, assessments, teacher evaluations and data collection systems. Common Core can accurately be called a federal executive branch initiative.

States are unwise to support an education initiative that bypassed congressional legal channels because, while it may appear to be the current cure for all that ails us, it now has the power to dismantle state sovereignty and local education control. Despite the fact that some points about the standards are good, a free people must stand up to lawlessness and demand that our representative process be used. Otherwise, we lose representation and all the power that comes with it.

The founder of Achieve, Inc., the D.C. policy group that helped create Common Core, stated in his December 2008 Wall Street Journal editorial that he would use national standards to “abolish all local school districts.” While local control cannot be abolished overnight, it’s easy to make state and local boards wholly owned subsidiaries of the US Dept. of Education using national standards and aligned assessments.

Here are a few examples of how it’s happening.

• David Coleman, architect of the standards, is now head of the College Board over AP courses, exams and the SAT. They are supplanting local and state curricula by unilaterally prioritizing AP subject content — often eliminating content that views America as exceptional. Some Utah districts are using technology and guidelines to implement course changes. The guidelines are produced by Achieve, Inc. and David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners.

• Utah chose to get out of the federally-funded testing consortia, Smarter Balanced, but our federal NCLB Waiver made American Institutes for Research (AIR) the only other federally approved test provider. AIR is a subsidiary of, and partner with, the U.S. Deptartment of Education. They produce the Department’s “Response to Intervention” guidelines to which states and districts comply. Their contract proposal to the Utah State Office of Education says they are teamed with Data Recognition Corporation — a group of five entities tasked with producing test items for Smarter Balanced.

• Former Govs. Jeb Bush and Bob Wise launched Digital Learning Now to support President Obama’s ConnectEd Initiative — a capstone of Common Core. Their objective is to embed “college and career ready” standards into most learning and assessing by replacing textbooks with personal computers within five years. In 2013, Utah’s legislature passed eight bills from Digital Learning Now. Federal technology grants, including Race to the Top grants, are being dished out to tech companies committed to embedding continuous assessment of student skills into their technology. Those companies, in turn, fund district technology pilot programs. Federal privacy laws, called FERPA, have been altered so that tech companies and “stakeholders” can collect — and profit from — student data without parental consent.

National standards ensure the loss of local control over curricula and testing, and provide the means for centralized data collection. The State Board can no longer honor their constitutional obligation, which is “general control and supervision” of a truly state-owned education system.

JaKell Sullivan graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising Design.

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