Archive for the ‘Academic Standards’ Category

Dr. Stotsky Exposes MA Supreme Court’s Stopping of Voters From Opportunity to Repeal Common Core   1 comment

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, published with permission from the author;

article was originally published July 8, 2016 at New Boston Post.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky

       Dr. Sandra Stotsky


Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts stopped voters from weighing in on a citizen-backed initiative to repeal Common Core.

In her opinion, Chief Justice Margot Botsford blocked on a technicality the petition to let voters decide whether to keep Common Core or revert to the state’s own educational standards. Her reasoning? The measure, she wrote, was unconstitutional because the portion of the ballot question that required the state to release used test items is unrelated to the transparency of state tests.

Got that? Justice Botsford thinks that release of used test items is unrelated to the transparency of state tests and standards as a matter of coherent public policy.

It was an oddly-reasoned decision since any classroom teacher in Massachusetts could have told her that the annual release of all used MCAS test items in the Bay State, from 1998 to 2007, was clearly related to the transparency of the state tests and very useful to classroom teachers. Among other things, the information allowed teachers to find out exactly what students in their classes did or did not do well and to improve their teaching skills for the next year’s cohort of students.

Botsford could have asked test experts as well. Any test expert would also have told her that the transparency of an assessment begins with an examination of the test items on it, followed up first by the names and positions of the experts who vetted the items on all tests at each grade level, and then by information on how the pass/fail scores for each performance level were determined, and the names and positions of those who determined them.

Botsford could also have found out from the testimony of those involved with the state’s tests from 1998 to 2007 that the cost of replacing released test items is negligible. It is not clear if her unsupported belief that there is a high cost for replacing released test items was what led her to conclude that the petition addressed matters that were unrelated to each other. As Botsford indicated in her ruling, “the goal of the petition…

… comes with a significant price tag: as the Attorney General agreed in oral argument before this court, implementing section 4 will require the development and creation of a completely new comprehensive diagnostic test every year, which means a substantial increase in annual expense for the board — an expense to be borne by taxpayers and to be weighed by voters in determining whether increased transparency is worth the cost.

In 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey certified the petition for placement on the November 2016 election ballot. But the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) was not content to let the democratic process play out, so they brought a lawsuit — seemingly paid for by grants to the MBAE from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — to stop the matter from ever reaching the voters.

Both Botsford’s decision that the petition was unconstitutional and the unanimous agreement by the other justices as part of a “full court” session are puzzling, given the thorough review the petition had received from the Attorney General’s office. Here is how one of the pro bono lawyers who wrote the petition for the organization collecting signatures to place it on the November 2016 ballot described the vetting process to me (in a personal e-mail):

The process for an initiative petition has a series of check points. The initial draft is reviewed by the staff in the Government Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). They look at the proposal to identify whether the proposal meets the threshold of the Constitutional requirements. The Government Bureau is made up of the best attorneys in state government. This review raised no flags.

After the collection of the signatures and submission to the AGO, the language is published and offered for public comment. It was at this point (in 2015) that the MBAE weighed in and opposed the petition (in a Memorandum of Opposition), using arguments that were dismissed by the AGO but that were later used in 2016 with the Supreme Judicial Court (as part of the MBAE’s lawsuit). In 2015, the review includes the staff attorney who oversees the petitions, the chief of the Government Bureau, the chief of the Executive Office (the policy-making administrative part of the AGO) and the Attorney General herself. This is a strictly legal discussion on the merits. … In my opinion, she decided it on the legal issues alone. And she and her staff decided that the petition passed the Constitutional requirements.

Now there can be legitimate differences on legal issues. But we structured the petition with the advice of a former U.S. attorney and his staff at his law firm. We passed several reviews at the Attorney General’s Office, including a contested review. The AGO’s brief on behalf of the petition was strong.

We had a petition that was complete, parrying threats that would have undermined the repeal of Common Core. The Attorney General understood that and supported our desire to bring it before the public.

To date, the parent organization that collected about 100,000 signatures for the petition has received no explanation from the lawyers who wrote the petition for them about why there was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Judicial Court that the petition was unconstitutional (on the grounds that there was a lack of connection among its sections, even though all the sections were in the original statute passed by the state legislature in 1993—a statute that was never criticized as incoherent). Nor has there been any word from the Attorney General’s office.

By preventing the voters from having their say, the Massachusetts court did a disservice not only to our public schools – which were better off under Massachusetts’ own rigorous academic standards — but even more to the institution of democracy itself.


Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.

Can Parents Combat the Media’s Tolerance of Institutional Manipulation?   Leave a comment

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Stotsky

This week, the New Boston Post published this article by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, which is republished here with the author’s permission.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky

Dr. Sandra Stotsky

The efforts by the Gates Foundation to manipulate our major institutions lie at a very deep level in order to remain difficult to detect. Its efforts have been made much easier because our media don’t seem to care if the manipulation is done by a “generous philanthropist,” someone with an extraordinary amount of money and ostensibly the best of intentions for other people’s children. At least, this is how they seem to rationalize their tolerance of political manipulation by moneyed and self-described do-gooders—and their unwillingness to dig into the details.

As one example, we can surmise that Gates gave the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) the funds it would need to pay a very pricey Boston law firm (Foley Hoag) for its 2015 Memorandum of Opposition to the citizen petition asking for a ballot question on Common Core and for the MBAE’s 2016 lawsuit against the Attorney General. We can assume the connection because Gates gave the MBAE large funds in recent years under the guise of “operating” costs. Until Judge Margot Botsford sings, we will not know her reason for using the flawed argument that had been worked out by Foley Hoag for the MBAE 2015 Memorandum of Opposition and that had already been rejected by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) when it declared the citizen petition constitutional in September 2015. The flawed argument, to remind readers, was that the release of used test items is NOT related to the transparency of a test—an illogical statement that most Bay State teachers would recognize as reflecting more the thinking of the Red Queen or Duchess in Wonderland than that of a rational judge. Moreover, the flawed argument was supported unanimously by Judge Botsford’s colleagues on the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). Not a murmur of dissent is on record.

Why Foley Hoag repeated the flawed argument it first offered in the 2015 MBAE Memo of Opposition in the 2016 MBAE lawsuit is something only the well-paid lawyers at Foley Hoag can explain. Why Judge Botsford and her colleagues on the SJC so readily used an already rejected and poorly reasoned argument for a “full court” opinion in July 2016 is what only she (and they) can explain. The end result of this fiasco is a corrupted judiciary and legal process. But how many reporters have spent time looking into this matter?

The Boston Globe published a long article the very day Judge Botsford’s decision was released (an amazing feat in itself) that revealed no inquiry by the reporter, Eric Moskowitz, into some of the interesting details of the ultimately successful effort by the MBAE and Gates to prevent voters from having an opportunity to vote on Common Core’s standards. Recall that these were the standards that had been hastily adopted by the state board of education in July 2010 to prevent deliberation on them by parents, state legislators, teachers, local school committee members, and higher education teaching faculty in the Bay State in mathematics and English.

As another example, we know from 1099 filings that the Gates Foundation gave over $7 million in 2014 to Teach Plus, a Boston-area teacher training organization, to testify for tests based on Common Core standards at Governor Baker-requested public hearings in 2015. These hearings were led by the chair of the state board of education and attended by the governor’s secretary of education. Teach Plus members earned their Gates money testifying at these hearings. (See the spreadsheet for the amounts) For links to all the testimony at these hearings, see Appendix B here. Has any reporter remarked on what many see as an unethical practice?

As yet another example, it is widely rumored that the Gates Foundation also paid for the writing of the 1000-page rewrite of No Child Left Behind known as Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It is public knowledge that Senators Lamar Alexander (TN-R) and Patty Murray ((WA-D) co-sponsored the bill, but the two senators have been remarkably quiet about ESSA’s authorship. No reporter has commented on the matter, or reported asking the senators who wrote the bill and who paid for the bill.

In addition, the accountability regulations for ESSA now available for public comment were not written by the USED-selected committees (who failed to come to consensus on any major issue), but by bureaucrats in the USED. Who gave the USED permission to write the accountability regulations it wanted, and who wrote them? No reporter has expressed any interest in finding out who these faceless bureaucrats are. Why?


Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. 

Video: Lisa Cummins’ Speech at Rally – Elevating Education: Common No More   Leave a comment

Lisa Cummins (see her campaign site here) is running for District 11 (Herriman area) for Utah’s State School Board.  Her speech below was given at the June 11, 2016 rally at the State Capitol, where citizens gathered to focus on “Elevating Education:  Common No More”.


Video: Alisa Ellis for State School Board – Speech at State Capitol Rally   Leave a comment

Alisa Ellis spoke at the “Elevating Education:  Common No More” rally on Saturday at the State Capitol.  She’s running against Dixie Allen and Jim Moss in the huge Heber-Duschesne-Lindon area known as Utah’s District 12.

Her speech was introduced by radio host Rod Arquette, who said:

“Alisa is one of the moms who gained national attention in their fight against Common Core… I look out and I see Christel and I see Renee and up on the stage, I see Alisa.  One of my favorite movies is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; I absolutely love that movie… it’s a movie about two scoundrels running across the Western U.S., being chased by a group of guys who don’t like them robbing trains and banks.  Paul Newman, who plays Butch Cassidy in the movie, keeps on asking himself as he looks at those guys coming after him, ‘Who are those guys?’ Well, I think when they heard about the Utah moms against common core around the country, people were asking, ‘Who are those guys?’  Well, they gained national attention and they were one of the early pioneers in the fight against Common Core.”

Alisa’s full speech is posted below the video.  My favorite part of her oratory was this:

“As the Utah Constitution states, it is my primary responsibility to educate my children.  The state’s role is secondary. Too often this responsibility is seen as the state’s job.  We even have presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who said that parents have “no role” in education! …When it came to discussing meaningful education policy with my superintendent, I was told that ‘we have no local control’. He even went so far as to tell Renee and I that our local school board no longer represented us.  He told me that he was tired, that he’d been fighting the fight for local control for a long time.  I told him that day that if he wasn’t willing to do it, that I would pick up the fight to restore local control in education.”



Elect Alisa Ellis to represent District 12 in the Utah State School Board!

Alisa’s got a four-year track record which her opponents cannot touch.

As the mother of seven children  –some of whom are home schooled and some of whom are public-schooled– Alisa effectively lobbied the legislature for the past four years, and has spoken across the state and outside the state, in cottage meetings and on radio shows, calling for increased parental control, student data privacy, real science standards, and for the hearing of the voices of teachers and localities in the fight against Big Ed (Fed Ed and Corporate Ed) –which is the fight against Common Core and nationalization of education.

Her opponents, including the incumbent, cannot hold a candle to her track record of effective, courageous action.

Her campaign site is here:

Full rally speech:

“Some may ask what qualifies me to run for state school board. I don’t have a fancy resume. I don’t lots of letters behind my name but I do have 7 children that no one but God knows and loves better than me. No one knows how to reach them quite like I do. No one knows their fears, insecurities, strengths and numerous other accolades quite like I do. It is my responsibility to see that they receive the best education possible. As the UT constitution states it is my primary responsibility to educate my children. The state’s role is secondary. Too often this responsibility is seen as the state’s job. We even have Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton saying parents have no place in education. This is wrong.

It’s time to put the lead of education back into the hands of parents as the founders originally intended and as our state’s constitution says.

I’m running for state school board because when it came to discussing meaningful education policy concerns with my Superintendent I was told WE HAVE NO local CONTROL. We have to do what the state tells us to do. He even went so far as to say the local school board did not represent me. He told me he was tired of the fight and that he’d been fighting a long time. I promised him that I would take up the fight for local control.

So what is local control? The local control I envision, involves much more than merely stating teachers have the freedom to choose textbooks. The local control I envision means that as a parent I have freedom to find a classroom in the public school that can teach the type of math, English, Science, History, Art etc. that I deem valuable not what a conglomerate of states finds valuable. I’m not trying to take away your right to have your children taught with ‘common standard’ but don’t take away my right either.

Imagine a system where parents can choose the type of education they value. Even with all the choices out there today there is still a centralization of control and power that is strangling the free market in education.
Imagine a system where teachers are given the freedom to truly teach.

There are too many regulations placed on the backs of teachers; too many mandates to meet; too many test to oversee and not enough time to teach. We need to allow teachers the courtesy we give other professionals and let them use their professional judgment to decide what methods work best in their classroom. In turn, we need to give parents the power to find the methods that best match their children’s needs. One size doesn’t fit all and one teaching method doesn’t teach all.

It is often stated that we have full control over our education. This is true. We do. But we aren’t exercising that right. We are continually, voluntarily following the carrot dangled before us either out of fear of falling behind, gaining or losing money or many other unknowns. Historically, this pattern has given us things like the unconstitutional Federal Department of Ed which in turn has given us a tongue twister of acronyms to manage: NCLB, ESEA, SLDS, SFSF, FERPA, AYP, ESSA, CCSS, RTT, RTTA, RTTD, GRIT, and countless other programs. I’ve spent the last 5 years in in depth study of these acronyms and the freedoms they take away from this district.
Recently, we had the opportunity to push back against ALL federal intrusion in to education but instead we codified into law President Obama’s blueprint of education reform in a grandiose bipartisan effort [ESSA] that will give the Department of Ed full Veto power over our state’s education plan and call for Family Engagement Plans. This is NOT local control.

We have come to a cross roads. It is no longer acceptable to go along to get along. We need leaders that are willing to stand up to the bullying that is coming from the federal Department of Ed. It seems that every candidate says they’re against Common Core but it has become an empty promise by most and I am here to tell you that it is not an empty promise with me. If elected I will do everything in my power to stop this trend toward nationalizing and corporatizing education.

Hugh B. Brown said,’One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong… We live in an age when freedom of the mind is suppressed over much of the world. We must preserve this freedom…and resist all efforts of earnest men to suppress it, for when it is suppressed, we might lose the liberties vouchsafed in the Constitution of the United States.’

I pledge to push back on the micromanaging come down from the Feds and state to the local districts. I would love to see local districts have more autonomy. I would love to see teachers be able to teach without having to jump through hoops. I’m tired of bad policy being blamed on poor implementation.

It’s time to bring meaningful decision making power back as close to the family and the community as we can.  I’m Alisa Ellis and I ask for your support.
Thank You.”


Video: Dr. Gary Thompson For Utah State School Board: The Dirty Dozen   Leave a comment

In case you missed the rally speeches and missed the Fox News report, here begins a series of posts featuring the speakers at this week’s rally at the state capitol, where Utah voters had the opportunity to hear from candidates for Utah State School Board.

The rally was entitled “Elevating Education:  Common No More”.

Radio host Rod Arquette introduced each school board candidate speaker and the gubernatorial candidate Johnathan Johnson. Each speaker declared that Utah can elevate education beyond the Common Core.

The first video shows Dr. Gary Thompson‘s speech; below is the text version of that speech.   (Other candidates’ speeches will be posted soon.)

Text of Dr. Thompson’s speech:

Communities are judged by how well they treat the most vulnerable children amongst them.

If given the honor of representing parents and teachers as a State Board Member, I will only ask four questions regarding any policies placed in front of me regarding our children and students:

1.  Does the policy conform to industry standard ethical practices?

2.   Does the policy allow ground level parental control and teacher choice?

3.   Are stealth psychological evaluations and data collection being performed on children without your knowledge and informed consent?

4.  Is the policy based on “Voodoo-Pseudo Science”, or independent, peer reviewed research?

Our School Board’s failure to view education policy via these four principles has resulted in 12 dangerous realities in place in Utah public schools:

I call them the “Dirty Dozen”:

1.    Lawmakers recently deemed the SAGE test invalid for teacher evaluations, yet did nothing to protect our most vulnerable children from the same flawed test.

2.   Many Utah Standards are developmentally inappropriate for our younger children.

3.  Not one independent developmental psychologist was active in writing Utah K-3 Educational Standards.

4.  The test used to measure knowledge of Utah Standards, the SAGE test, has never been independently validated to measure academic performance.

5.  Without parental knowledge and informed written consent, Utah schools are collecting our children’s most intimate cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and sociological information.

6.  Utah’s test vendor, AIR, is currently using Utah public school children as “experimental lab rats”, as part of the largest, non consensual, unethical, experimentation ever performed on Utah soil.

7. Performing unethical, experimentation on Utah’s children place many of them at risk for serious emotional, behavioral and cognitive damage.

8.  Common Core special education practices are harmful, not based on sound science, and put our divergent learning students at risk for suicide.  Utah has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the Country.

9.  The Utah State Board of Education does not have effective policies in place requiring technology vendors to follow ethical and privacy guidelines, designed to protect parents and children from exploitation and harm.

10.  Student data security and privacy is a myth.

11.  Utah’s Preschool and Kindergarten programs are not supported by independent, peer-reviewed research.

12.   Utah’s adoption of the Common Core Federal mandate to have ALL Kindergartners reading, as opposed to emphasizing play, is abusive, and flies in the face of 75 years of child developmental research.

Since the advent of Common Core, the Board of Education, and the Utah State Office of Education, have dismissed “The Dirty Dozen” as “dangerous misinformation”, and have accuse parents like me of spreading fear into the community.

Today I draw a line in the sand, and for the sake of my children and Community, I ask State School Board Chairman Dave Crandall to do the same.

The contrasts between us could not be more evident.

One of us will protect your children….
One of us is dangerously wrong.

In Exchange, I challenge Chairman Crandall to publicly acknowledge the existence of “The Dirty Dozen”, as THE most pressing, dangerous assault on parental rights, teacher autonomy, and child safety present in Utah Public Schools.

If Chairman Crandall ignores this,  and ignores this challenge, I believe he is not fit to serve another term representing our children, and I respectfully request for him to immediately drop out of the election.

I ask the next Governor of this State, sitting on this stage;  I ask Governor Johnson to place the destiny of the next generation of children into the hands of local parents and our talented ground level teachers, as opposed to catering to technology special interest groups, who now own many Utah lawmakers.

I ask parents to demand that our education leaders base their decisions on ethics, and the rule of constitutional law, as opposed to agenda based, harmful mandates being forced upon our children via the U.S. Office of Education, and adopted without question by the Utah State Office of Education, and the State Board of Education.

I close from a quote from an American who was buried yesterday in Kentucky, Muhammad Ali. His example and courage inspired my father to pursue a dream of becoming one of America’s first generation of black medical doctors in modern history:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given, than to explore the power they have to change it.

Impossible is not a fact…. It’s an opinion.

Impossible is not a declaration…. It’s a dare.

Impossible is potential…Impossible is temporary….Impossible is nothing.”

Thank you for your time and consideration. May God bless this great, and truly exceptional Nation.”


Dr. Thompson’s campaign website link is here:!Dr-Thompsons-Utah-CapitolTown-Hall-Speech/b8v6m/575b6c780cf24c9615a7f130

Early voting begins tomorrow, and voting ends June 28th.  Please vote wisely.  No elected position in this state affects your children and your family more than the state school board position.

Miracles Do Happen: Governor and Chair of Common Core Organization (NGA) Rejects Common Core   7 comments


Governor Herbert surprised a lot of people this week, including me.

After spending the past six years promoting,  marketing, and providing workforce alignment strategies to serve Common Core, and after rising to the throne of Common Core’s organization, National Governors Association, to become its chair, and after going out of his way to have the Utah Attorney General provide “proof” that Common Core supposedly represented local control– after all of this,  Herbert has now turned his back on the Common Core and has written a letter to the State School Board, asking it to move away from Common Core.

The media in Utah say that they are “puzzled” and confused.  Not me.  I’m doing the happy dance!


happy dance dog

Regardless of the Governor’s motives in this election year, regardless of the possibility that Utah might just endure a wasteful rebranding effort that could redeliver Common Core under a new name (as many other states, have done and done and done) –I still see this letter from Governor Herbert as a home run for the freedom team.

Read it.  The letter admits that Common Core is not an example of local control, that it is the federal will, and that it damages local control –of testing, data collection, curriculum and instruction.

The letter asks the board to keep these principles in mind while it moves away from Common Core: 1) maintain high academic standards; 2) keep the federal government out of educational decisions in Utah; and 3) preserve local control of curriculum, testing, data collection and instruction.

It also says, “Just as important as the actual educational standards is the process by which we arrive at those standards.  This should be a Utah process with public comment and discourse.”  It continues, “…[W]e all understand the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all approach. It is imperative that any new standards are flexible enough to allow a wide variety of curricular decisions by individual school districts …I believe that our teachers need more freedom to be creative in the classroom.

Well, those words are a surprise, and a miracle, to me.

Some people are suspicious because the governor’s in the middle of his re-election campaign, while his challenger, has been extremely successful with voting delegates because of his staunchly anti-Common Core stand.  I was there when the governor got booed by a crowd over well over 1,000 delegates at the Utah County GOP Convention last month, when he spoke about Common Core; I know he is under campaign pressure, but he didn’t have to do this!   He knew it would make him look like a fair-weather politician. He knew that most of those who are already voting for the more-conservative Johnson won’t change their minds and that those who already support Herbert won’t likely change their minds.  So why did he really do it?

Maybe a key to why the governor wrote this letter is in its closing paragraph.  His own children and grandchildren do not like the Common Core. The letter says, “I have eleven grandchildren in Utah public schools. I have seen firsthand the frustration they and their parents have had…”

What grandfather can stand up to his own grandchildren’s lobbying efforts against the Common Core?  So he caved, in a good way.  He’s publically admitted that Common Core is academically miserable and politically for socialists.

I cannot see this letter as anything but great news.

So what’s next?  What will the Utah State School Board do?

I don’t think it can get away with yet another meaningless rebranding job. The now-somewhat-savvy Utah public won’t stand for that, knowing what so recently happened to Utah’s previously-good science standards, or knowing what happened when Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, Tennessee, Indiana, and other states passed Common Core repeal laws that resulted in nothing better, but common core 2.0 (under new names).  To the dismay of those who actually wanted freedom and autonomy beyond the federal 15% no-change alignment “suggestion”, better standards didn’t actually mean, better standards.  But we have the advantage of other states’ errors to learn from today.

The letter didn’t spell out every problem with education reform.  For example, it didn’t say, “Let’s finally permit parents to opt children out of the federal/state data data monitoring system SLDS“.

But I don’t see the federal SLDS (Utah’s federally-provided student data mining system, which came to Utah alongside Common Core) very much longer reading “long life and happiness” in its fortune cookie.  Why?  Too many Utahns are aware that common data standards and common academic standards were a package deal from day one.  Utah legislators recently passed bills that  took protective action on student data privacy– taking a stand against the opposition’s  national data-mining-and-monitoring movement.  The governor will not be able to sidestep SLDS, even if he wants to.   SLDS didn’t need to be in the letter because it’s on everyone’s mind.

freedom of speech


One of my happiest thoughts, after seeing this letter,  has been thinking about the countless Utah teachers and administrators who have previously not felt free to speak their minds about Common Core.  The governor’s letter, in many ways (and unintentionally, perhaps) helps to reclaim freedom of speech to Utah educators.  While educators opposed to Common Core have mostly remained quiet or anonymous, some of those who have not, have been bypassed, mistreated or branded as “insubordinate” for speaking out– for refusing to pretend to like Common Core –either academically or politically.  Some have even been pushed to resign.

But now, if even the reigning governor is saying he’s not happy about the Common Core –academically nor in terms of lost local control– then finally,  perhaps, any teacher or principal can pipe up, too.

So, this letter is very good news.

Thanks, Governor Herbert.



A Fact Check on Governor Herbert’s Common Core Letter to Utah State Delegates   1 comment


Ed. Note:  … State delegates have received no less than five communications in the past week from Governor Herbert related to Common Core … Just today we received a robocall from the Lt. Governor, in which he states Governor Herbert has “fought against federal control of education including Common Core”…

What follows below is a rebuttal by Alyson Williams about the letter delegates received from Governor Herbert.

Don’t miss the other UACC article exposing the history of how involved Governor Herbert has been in promoting Common Core.

In a letter to State delegates dated April 7, 2016, Governor Herbert listed seven points, concluding with a personal note, to clarify his position on Common Core in Utah. A fact check against other sources follows each excerpted point below:

1) I have called for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.

TRUE (but don’t miss the fine print): While the topic didn’t come up in his remarks to Congress, he did say there should not be a federal Department of Education on his Facebook page:

Governor Herbert NCLB

Now for the fine print, here are his remarks to Congress:

In short, the Governor outlines how instead of the Federal Department of Education controlling nationwide policies for education, Governors should collude to set nationwide policy for education. Calling for the elimination of the Department of Ed while advocating for an extragovernmental process to accomplish a different centralization of power is not a principle of constitutional federalism. It is a Constitution work around.

2) I signed into law SB287 – a bill that makes it illegal for the federal government to have any control.

FALSE: No law in our state makes it “illegal” for the federal government to have “any control.” 2012 SB287 ( began as a list of conditions under which Utah “shall exit” any federal education agreement. However, by the time it reached the Governor’s pen, it said, “may exit.” The degree to which Utah avoids federal parameters over local education policy is dependent on the people we elect to various positions of authority and whether they will take action not because they “shall” but because they “may” do so.  Governor Herbert has taken great pains to emphasize Utah’s legal authority to take an alternative path to Common Core and yet he has not advocated doing it. As the chair of the National Governor’s Association, a key stakeholder in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, he accepted a nationally prominent role in promoting these reforms.

3) I called for Attorney General Sean Reyes to conduct an exhaustive investigation to determine whether or not the state of Utah had ceded authority over our education system to the federal government on Common Core or any other standards. He concluded that Utah has not. We control our standards, our curriculum, our textbooks and our testing.

FALSE: Herbert did ask AG Sean Reyes to conduct an investigation but within carefully selected parameters, not an “exhaustive” one. The report provided legal justification for whether Utah could join or exit Common Core while avoiding a conversation Utahans can’t seem to have with this Governor about whether Utah should have joined or would exit Common Core.

As far as ceding authority to the federal government, the AG report acknowledges “the USDOE, by imposing those waiver conditions, has infringed upon state and local authority over public education. States have consented to the infringement, through federal coercion…”

A full response to this report by a Utah teacher can be found here:

Download the AG report here:

4) I commissioned Utah Valley University President Matt Holland and a group of experts to review our education standards. With over 7,000 public comments, this committee recommended improvements to standards and the state board has implemented many of these proposed changes.

UNDISCLOSED BIAS:  Throughout his campaign, Governor Herbert has referred to his Common Core review commission using only Matt Holland’s recognizable name, leaving out that the original chair, Rich Kendell (eventual co-chair with Holland), was an advisor for Prosperity 2020 and Education First. Prosperity 2020 Chair Allan Hall was also on the commission as was Rob Brems, a member of the Utah Data Alliance Executive Board. (Common standards are an invaluable asset for data collection.) All are highly qualified people, who, it must be noted, publicly favored these reforms before this commission was assembled.  There was just one k12 teacher on the commission, from a private school, and she did not concur with the report but her reasons for dissent are not specifically listed.

In another example of this one-sided approach, the report references two experts who came to Utah to testify about the quality of the Standards but does not disclose their previous connection to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Timothy Shanahan from the University of Chicago was on the writing committee for the standards, and David Pearson from UC Berkeley was on the Common Core Standards validation committee. Both have published works and give seminars to help teachers implement Common Core around the country.  The concerns of the dissenting members of the Common Core validation committee who have also submitted testimony in Utah were never mentioned.

LIMITATIONS ON PUBLIC COMMENT: Public comment was limited to making suggestions standard by standard and not on the overall scope and sequence of the framework, or on things that are absent from the standards.

NO MEANINGFUL REVISIONS: As far as proposed changes coming from the report, there is a list of changes to the standards, but they are all corrections of typographical errors or clarifications of the wording.  (p. 33) Other less specific recommendations are scattered throughout, but are seemingly limited to organizational considerations like better cross-referencing between the standards and supporting materials with no substantive revisions.

Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the report is this statement that is repeated several times regarding the natural limitation to making meaningful changes to standards that are intended, as a priority, to be common across the U.S.:

“The Utah Core Standards can be revised and improved over time in accordance with Utah students’ needs and based on sound research, while staying similar enough to other states to assist transferability at grade level.”

RISKS FOR REMEDIATION UNCHANGED: Another conclusion of note was whether Common Core would reduce college remediation (starts pg 27): “Students who master Secondary Math I, II, and III standards will be very well prepared for postsecondary education and training programs.” In other words, in this report that ironically emphasizes the need to teach more “critical thinking,” we see an example of circular reasoning: students who master the content (or, who do not need remediation) will not need remediation… just like students who mastered content in previous math programs in Utah.

UNKNOWN OUTCOMES: This is immediately followed by the observation that we won’t truly know how college readiness will be impacted until we see how the kids who have been through Common Core get to college – underlining one of the biggest concerns of parents, that this is a statewide (nationwide) experiment on a scale that will reduce alternatives and inhibit the innovation driven by competing ideas. This experiment will affect an entire generation of Utah students but we can only hypothesize about the outcome: “Research on students who complete all of the grade levels of the mathematics standards will be required to verify that the standards (and their effective implementation) make a difference.” (p.28)

A link to the report:

5) I, and others, successfully lobbied Congress to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act and return education authority to the states. This policy change was heralded by the Wall Street Journal as the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”

FALSE: ESSA didn’t repeal “No Child Left Behind,” it reauthorized it. NCLB is just a nickname for one of the previous reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that has been due for reauthorization since 2007. This reauthorization was dubbed the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” It was revised to eliminate one of the most unpopular aspects of NCLB, the penalties for not meeting targets for AYP, but put nearly everything that had been pushed in the federal grants and waivers under Obama’s Department of Education into federal statute. Obama’s Secretary of Education said everything his administration had “promoted and proposed forever” is embedded in ESSA:

Here’s a letter sent to Utah’s Congressional delegation from a group of local parents highlighting a few of their concerns with ESSA:

Every member of Utah’s Congressional delegation, with the exception of Senator Hatch, voted against ESSA.

6) Assessing the progress of our students is important, but we want to maximize the time they spend learning, not the time they spend taking tests. This session, I worked with the Legislature and signed two bills into law that reduce high-stakes testing in our schools (SAGE testing).

TRUE-ish: Governor Herbert did sign the bill removing the high stakes for SAGE assessments from teacher evaluations and another bill that makes the SAGE test optional for 11th graders (who would likely be taking a different standardized test for college application purposes.) It is not clear how either of those reduce testing unless, in the first case, it is assumed that teachers will require less test practice if their evaluation isn’t directly impacted. In the second case, it’s likely just making room for a different high-stakes test.

7) Every budgetary proposal and policy decision I make is to give more authority and discretion to local school districts and local schools. I have continually advocated for increases to funding that gets to the classroom and can be tailored for local needs.

FALSE: Not every policy proposal. Much of the Governor’s Excellence in Education plan dating back to 2010 and the associated calls for additional funding have been in the context of his Education 2020 plan to expand state educational policy to include early childhood education (preschool, all day kindergarten), workforce alignment initiatives, data collection, and school and teacher accountability which is money for bureaucracy and additional programs, not an increase for the average classroom. He did call for additional $ to go into the WPU in his 2017 budget.

On a personal note, I have eleven grandchildren in Utah public schools. I’ve seen the frustration they and their parents have had over math assignments they didn’t understand and teachers struggled to teach. I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the flawed implementation of new standards, especially in math…

NOTE: It seems too common that when a top-down program fails it is blamed on the “implementation.” This is a key reason for true local control and for programs to be initiated at the level where the expertise, resources and student needs are best understood. Teachers should not be scapegoats for programs chosen by politicians.



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