Dear Utah Attorney General,
I am not a lawyer. I am a teacher of high school English, third grade, and college English at UVU. I’ve written education grants for schools in Utah County. I’ve written for newspapers. I translate documents from English to Swedish as I am currently staying at home with a one year old. I have no political agenda and nobody is paying me to fight Common Core.
I started to do my own research about the initiative a few weeks ago. I am now fighting against Common Core’s full implementation in Utah and fighting for Utah’s guaranteed educational freedom, because that freedom is unquestionably threatened and has not been assigned any legal team to research and defend it.
Please look into the following questions about Utah’s involvement with the Common Core Initiative. There is a small window of opportunity now; we can sever ties with Common Core and the SBAC. Later, our state will be too financially and in other ways entangled to withdraw.
There are discrepancies between what teachers and parents against common core have found, and what the Utah State Office of Education and its legal department have found. This letter will outline a few.
There is an egregious lack of transparency about the intense pressure to agree with Common Core Initiative among educational administrators, teachers and USOE employees.
To illustrate: State School Board candidacy applicants must take a survey before the School Board selects a pool of candidates from which the Governor appoints new board members. The survey’s first question is “Do you support Common Core?” No one with a differing view can make it to the governor’s pool of candidates.
There is a lack of understanding among citizens, educators and taxpayers about what Common Core costs, not only in terms of budget (no cost analysis was done on Common Core implementation) and in terms of Utah’s future power to raise educational standards when state ideas may not align lockstep with the ideas of the federal Common Core Standards (CCSS). Legislators are expected to allocate funding to support Common Core, but they were never appraised of its budgetary demands nor of its cost to state educational freedom.
There is a lack of common knowledge among Utahns that Common Core comes with SBAC membership (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and that there are not only untold financial costs but also as privacy infringements and FERPA law issues connected with the academic and psychometric data to be collected and shared (triangulated) across consortia and with the Executive Branch (U.S. Dept. of Education). This is clearly evidenced in the “Cooperative Agreement between the U.S. DOE and the SBAC” (Exhibit A below). However, the lawyer at the USOE told me that she did not agree with my interpretation of the agreement. She diagrees with much of what I am reading and interpreting, which is why I have appealed to you.
- Teachers and Parents Claim: Common Core Initiative hurts Utah Education and robs state autonomy and budget
- USOE Claims: Common Core Initiative helps Utah Education and does not rob state autonomy nor state budget
USOE claims that because U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has written public letters that affirm that Common Core in no way threatens Utah’s educational sovereignty, then Utah is guaranteed educational sovereignty.
There are problems with believing in the letters of Arne Duncan. The public letters are not legally binding as the contractual, legally binding documents which he and his staff have signed, are binding; the letters also directly conflict with the documents in their many compliance regulations and G.E.P.A. law oversteps. These documents are signed by the U.S. Department of Education and by Utah’s fiscal agents, (See Exhibit A) and Superintendent and Governor, (See Exhibit C) and they use carefully chosen words that misrepresent the set controls. (See Exhibit B)
- Exhibit A: Cooperative Agreement Between U.S. Department of Education and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf
- Exhibit B: Public letters from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to Utah Governor Herbert and Utah Superintendent Shumway http://utahpubliceducation.org/2012/03/06/letters-to-utah-lawmakers-secretary-duncan-on-utahs-core-standards/#.T1oc5zEgea8
- Exhibit C: Two RTTT grant applications
http://www.doe.k12.de.us/rttt/DE%20RTTT%20Narrative%20Final%20-%20100119_0116.pdf (we did not win it but signed up for CC/SBAC on the application, to become eligible to win it)
http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/arra/sbac_narrative.pdf (the SBAC testing consortium won this one; and Utah’s bound by it , via Utah’s SBAC fiscal agent, Washington State.)
- Exhibit D: Expert Testimony and Recommendations http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/common_core_standards.pdf
- Exhibit E: Survey for State School Board Candidates (below)
The USOE lawyer wrote that “We did not win RTTT funds so Utah is not under the requirements of the grant.” She is correct that Utah did not win the first round of RTTT funds in the original application, but she is incorrect that Utah is not under the requirements of the grant, because Utah did, as a member of the SBAC consortium of states, “win” the other RTTT testing development grant, and although we get no money, Utah is bound to those consortium mandates and requirements.
USOE claims that “the supports we will receive and the testing that will be developed will be important so we can institute accountability to the standards.”
First, to which standards is she referring? There are two sets of standards, the Utah Common Core and the Common Core State Standards. One is being taught today, the other is the federal set to which teachers will teach after 2014 when testing has been implemented, since the test is written to that CCSS federal set of standards. I assume she means the federal standards.
Second, why does Utah aspire to “be accountable to” minimalist federal standards that a) have not been proven to be high enough to enter college, (See Exhibit D) although in some areas such as grammar (but not in math) they are probably higher than what Utah had before; and b) the federal standards have been proven to be much lower than what many other states had (Texas has higher math, South Carolina has higher history, Massachusetts had higher English before they lowered their standards in order to conform to the Common Core.) Why not aspire to standards that are clearly superior to what Utah had before, standards that have an amendment process allowed, and standards over which Utah has a voice?
The USOE’s claim that these are “more rigorous standards” has not been backed up by research. In fact, Professor Sandra Stotsky was one Common Core Validation Committee Member who refused to sign off on the standards, saying that: “The wisest move all states could make to ensure that students learn to read, understand, and use the English language appropriately before they graduate from high school is first to abandon Common Core’s “standards” and ask the National Governors Association to ask a national organization devoted to authentic literary study (ALSCW, e.g.,) to develop a set of high school literature standards that could serve as the backbone of a coherent literature curriculum from grade 6-12″
The USOE lawyer claims that “I believe a cost analysis was done,” when it has not. Here’s a link to an independent think tank’s cost analysis. The Congressional Budget Office was not asked to do a cost analysis because that would have pointed to the fact that this was not an initiative unrelated to the U.S. Department of Education, as some have claimed, and is not a state-led or state-controlled initiative.
USOE claims that there was public and legislative input; there was not:
“I believe there was consideration, great consideration,” wrote the USOE lawyer.
The USOE lawyer first told me the Cooperative Agreement (Exhibit A) must be a hoax because she hadn’t seen a copy of it. I sent it to her. Next she wrote this about the “Cooperative Agreement” (Exhibit A)
“I don’t believe it represents a “loss of control” of education in Utah for education leaders in Utah. “ Does the lawyer realize that as our fiscal agent and as the lead state in the SBAC consortium, Washington State has our educational voice and Utah does not?
The USOE website says nothing about two sets of standards. Only the Utah Common Core is represented there, not the CCSS federal set. USOE claims that it’s not a problem to have two sets of standards, with the federal one having no amendment process Utahns may approach. The lawyer wrote:
“There may be a year where we are teaching to the CCSS and are still tested with the CRTs. As I believe the new standards are superior, I don’t believe it will be a problem of great proportions.”
I asked: Why is there no amendment process to change or disagree with the federal CCSS that Utah contracted to join?
The USOE lawyer responded: “Why would there need to be? The whole point is to get to a place where there is a “common core” – that would mean the same standards for all the states that adopt it. If the states had the freedom to “disagree” and “change” them, I guess they would no longer be “common”.”
This illustrates a key point:
The USOE lawyer realizes Utah has ceded our sovereignty and freedom. She, like most CC-proponents, value being common more than they value being free.
Educational standards are meaningless without political freedom. Utah has not only agreed to possibly-better-possibly-worse standards, but signed on to a system that will not allow us to choose for ourselves to ever raise them or amend them.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these matters.
Utah State Board of Education
2012 Candidate Interview Questions
Due April 12, 2012, 7:00 AM
Name:_____________________________________ District: ___________
Please answer the following questions with a Yes or No answer:
- Do you support the Utah Core Curriculum Standards?
- Do you support increased rigor for high school students?
- Do you support more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) requirements for high schools students?
- Do you support the investment in and use of technology as part of the educational experience?
- Do you support students having the option to take courses online?
- Do you support students having the option to choose the providers for online courses?
- Do you support merit-based pay for educators?
- Do you think sex education should be taught in schools?
- Do think schools should address the skills gap that employers are seeing?
- Do you support raising taxes or impact fees to provide more funding for the education system and school buildings?
- Do you support the FFA program and teaching of agriculture in the classroom?
- Do you support student-based budgeting (money following the child to the school level)?
In questions previously sent to you, you gave an answer to the question: What do you think are the two biggest issues or challenges facing public education in the state of Utah? Explain how you would solve the challenges/problems identified in your answer.
Please email your answers to Lorraine Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org
no later than 7:00 AM on Thursday, April 12.