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Lawmakers, educators growing weary of Common Core debate

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 2:05 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers spent almost all of Wednesday's meeting of the Education Interim Committee discussing Utah's adoption of the Common Core State Standards, with many legislators and education officials expressing frustration over the prolonged debate.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, described the subject as being discussed "ad nauseam" and compared Utah's participation in the standards as a train that had already left its station.

"What are we really talking about? What is the purpose of this discussion?" Osmond asked a pair of visiting experts who testified against the Common Core. "Believe me when I tell you, we've all heard it a dozen times if not more."

While mentioning the vocal opposition that has followed the core standards, Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, posed a series of rhetorical questions — such as whether opponents had actually read the standards or were, themselves, educators — that elicited a chorus of unorganized responses from the audience.

"These standards are not really much different than any standards we've had," she said. "What really matters is who teaches it, how they teach it and what curriculum they use to teach it."

Several lawmakers pointed out that the Utah constitution grants the State Board of Education the power and responsibility to set the state's educational standards. State Superintendent Larry Shumway, speaking for the board, said repeatedly that the decision to adopt the standards had been duly made by the board and that his office was moving forward with their implementation, including the issuance of a request for proposals for assessment materials, which he said will happen as early as in the next 10 days.

Shumway also said that a portal has been created online at schools.utah.gov, where anyone can review the standards and make recommendations. He emphasized that officials are very interested in receiving specific, substantive feedback on content but are not interested in hearing partisan objections based on who had written the standards.

"Our State Board of Education has looked at these standards, has determined them to be worthwhile for students and has adopted them," Shumway said. "I'm not particularly interested in the other conversation that it's a bad standard because we don't like where it came from."

But for some lawmakers, and several members of the public in attendance, the looming threat of federal intrusion and concerns over the standards themselves continue to be sticking points.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said that if he were "the king of Utah," he would follow the recommendation of the visiting experts, who testified that Utah would be better served by abandoning the Common Core in lieu of a locally- and independently-developed set of education standards. He also distributed documents to members of the committee written by educational experts who have raised issues with the mathematics and English language arts benchmarks.

"I think some of the complaints are well-founded," Stephenson said.

Shumway, however, effectively dismissed the documents, saying there is an abundance of material from both sides of the issue and reiterated that the standards had been reviewed by the state board and deemed valuable.

"I imagine I would also find someone who would distribute documents that would refute the documents from these individuals," he said. 

The Common Core State Standards are a set of achievement benchmarks in mathematics and English language arts. They are voluntarily adopted, with the goal of improving college- and career-readiness among students as well as establishing a degree of educational consistency between states.

The decision to adopt the core standards was made by the state board in 2010 and the standards began being implemented in classrooms last year. Utah recently withdrew from a consortium of states, known as SBAC, that had been developing testing materials for the core standards in order to avoid a conflict of interest and appeal to the broadest market possible when issuing its request for proposals.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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