Utah Governor Reverses Position on Common Core

Published June 13, 2016

Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) sent a letter to the State Board of Education asking for an end to the state’s use of the Common Core (CC) academic standards.

In the letter, sent May 4, 2016, Herbert says the repeal of No Child Left Behind gives Utah more flexibility to “chart our own course for improved educational outcomes.” Herbert asks the board to “consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.” 

Herbert’s request to rid his state of Common Core is being called an “about-face” for the governor, who in the past spoke in favor of the standards.

Jonathan Johnson is challenging Herbert’s re-election campaign this year. Johnson has also spoken out against Common Core, saying in a statement, “I strongly believe Utah’s students will benefit greatly from more localization and personalization.”

‘The Right Thing to Do’

Christel Swasey, author of the blog, “What is Common Core?” and a founding member of Utahans Against Common Core, says Herbert’s reversal on Common Core is likely not a political move.

“I know he is under campaign pressure, but he didn’t have to do this,” Swasey said. “He knew it would make him look like a fair-weather politician.”

Alpine School District board member Wendy Hart agrees.

“Most likely, the governor won’t win over a lot of the anti-CC votes, but it is still the right thing to do,” Hart said.

‘Hearing the People’

Because Utah’s unique caucus system allows anyone to meet directly with sitting office holders and political candidates, Hart says she believes the governor’s change of opinion about Common Core is tied to first-hand accounts he’s heard from families affected by the standards.

“Nowhere else do you have candidates meeting with average people in a high school gym on a Saturday morning in April,” Hart said. “And because these meet-and-greets are not engineered by campaign staff or big donors, it is a great opportunity to find out, unfiltered, what the concerns of the people are. He is hearing people, not motivated by politics or policies, but by concern for their own children.”

Swasey says complaints from his own backyard have also caused Herbert to see things differently.

“His own children and grandchildren do not like the Common Core,” Swasey said. “The letter says, ‘I have eleven grandchildren in Utah public schools. I have seen firsthand the frustration they and their parents have had over an assignment they did not understand and that teachers struggled to teach.'”

‘Bringing Light to the Public’

Alisa Ellis, District 12 candidate for the Utah State School Board, says she’s thankful for the opportunity to open discussions about Common Core to a broader audience.

“We are at a place where we have both gubernatorial candidates speaking about this issue and bringing light to the public,” Ellis said. “There is so much work to do. There is so much understanding that still needs to happen and none of that will happen if we aren’t open to having discussions.”

Swasey says she hopes Common Core opponents “can use the momentum of this letter from the governor to influence fence-sitting legislators and board members to take legislative action.” 

Jenni White ([email protected]writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.