July 15, 2012
Utah State School Board Members,
My name is Janette Hall and I have five children enrolled in the public school system in Utah. I am also the PTA president of Timpanogos Intermediate School. I have spent many years volunteering in schools and working closely with teachers and administrators. I appreciate the work that is conducted by the USOE for my children and their education, but I feel compelled to write this letter after reading a recent posting on your official blog by Brenda Hales regarding Utah’s Core Standards, Assessments and Privacy Regulations on July 10th, 2012.
It seems that the intent of the statement was to assuage the public instead of seeking to be factual. I was surprised at the definitive tone of Brenda Hale’s statement, when a study of the legal documents would lead one to the opposite conclusion.
As the public becomes more educated, our ability to see through statements like these increases at the cost of your board’s credibility. An organization that can admit that other points of view have credence is to be admired, not looked down upon. We are treading into uncharted territory and no one knows the exact outcome of the board’s actions to adopt the Common Core standards and join the SBAC, not even the USOE.
After reading her official blog I was shocked at the many misleading, and in my opinion, incorrect statements, such as the following:
2. The State Board of Education has control over the standards and assessments for Utah.
3. Utah has not lost its autonomy over standards and assessments.
4. The Utah core standards:
May be changed by the State Board at any time.
Were not developed, funded or mandated by the federal government.
Are not federal or national standards.
Were not obligatory because of Utah’s Race to the Top application.
Are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.
Are not obligatory because of Utah’s NCLB flexibility request application.
In a letter dated March 7, 2012, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of the United States Department of Education affirmed that “states have the sole right to set learning standards.” In Utah’s flexibility request we informed the Department of Education that we have chosen to use our Utah core standards. If and when the State Board decides to change or revise Utah’s standards they will do so.
The USOE has never, prior to Common Core, signed legal documents that have bound Utah’s ability to control standards and assessments; because of this we need to proceed carefully to fully understand our legal obligations. I have studied the issues related to Common Core and the SBAC for the past few months. I have also personally talked with Norman Jackson, a retired Judge from Utah, who analyzed the legally binding documents signed by Utah. You can see a copy of his analysis at http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/judge-norman-jackson-the-two-schools-of-thought-of-citizens-versus-the-utah-state-office-of-education/. I have also discussed the topic with three attorneys, one of which was my congressman, that have reviewed the legally binding documents related to the SBAC and No child Left Behind waiver. Their mutual consensus is contrary to Brenda Hale’s statements above. The documents clearly state that Utah cannot take anything away from the standards and can only add up to 15% additional material and the additional material will not be assessed. There is no amendment process associated with the standards. They are copyrighted by a private entity. They are not owned by Utah. The following link to Utah’s NCLB waiver application states that our adoption of the Common Core standards satisfies the requirements of waiver. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/ut.pdf (please see page 18 and 84.)
Bill Evers, a research fellow from Hoover Institute and a member of former Governor Romney’s educational advisory committee, recently informed Governor Herbert on July 9, 2012, in my presence, that he had personally discovered a minor error in the language arts standards, dealing with vowels. He contacted the authors, whom he knew, and they acknowledged that he was correct in his discovery, but informed him that the standards had already been printed and adopted in 35 states so they could not be changed; it was too late. If one person could not change an agreed-upon, blatant error in the standards, do you think Utah will have the ability to make changes to the standards? Mr. Evers’ expert opinion was that we will not have that freedom. Is our educational freedom worth giving up for an experimental common core?
I have seen a copy of the letter written by Arne Duncan. I asked Kent Talbert, an attorney focused on K-12 education, for his expert opinion and his initial thoughts were that it might be a political letter and not a legally binding letter. Have you had the letter reviewed by your attorneys to see if it would hold up in court or has any teeth in it to counter your signatures on legally binding documents? The letter is not a carte blanche for Utah to disregard legal obligations. Please seek legal advice before you make statements to the contrary.
Recently Mr. Evers compared Utah’s previous mathematical standards with Common Core’s and stated that the new common core math standards are lower than our previous standards. Do you have an educational analysis of the standards that you can release? What criteria did the validation committee use to judge the standards? After postings like Brenda Hales’ on your blog, I can no longer accept your word at face value. You are in a position of trust and you cannot throw statements around without documentation. It will ultimately hurt your cause and not strengthen it. I urge you to be cautious on the statements that you choose to release to the public. I hope that the blog represents Ms. Hales’ opinion and not the opinions of the entire USOE.
I listened to the Rod Arquette show last week with Joel Coleman and Craig Coleman. I felt like they were sincere in their desire to help educate our children. But again, they provided no references for their beliefs that Common Core would raise, rather than lower standards in Utah. I was also pleased to hear that the USOE will vote on the possibility of exiting the SBAC in August. I would like to lend my support and encouragement for the USOE to withdraw from the SBAC.
I do not usually write letters of this nature but when I read Ms. Hales’ blog I could no longer sit idly by. I feel that it is important that the USOE know how their words are perceived by the public. Obviously, I have a vested interest in the education of my children. There are few things that will move a parent more than the wellbeing of their children.
Thank you for taking the time to read over this. I have attached below a letter that I gave to Governor Herbert on July 9, 2012.