Parents and citizens have formed activist groups to oppose Utah’s adoption of Common Core education standards, though state officials including the governor and education department spokesmen say these objections are groundless.
Approximately 300 people packed a Salt Lake City auditorium for lectures on the standards, which describe what children should know in each grade for math and English. Forty-five states adopted the Core under Obama administration pressure.
Christal Swasey, a mom from Heber City, Utah, said she hadn’t even heard the term “Common Core” until April 2012—nearly two years after the state adopted it.
“I think most parents in Utah still don’t know what the term means,” Swasey said. “Utah adopted the Core before the standards had been published—like getting married without dating.”
Parent activist Alisa Ellis didn’t know about the Common Core until a teacher handed her a brochure, unable to explain the Core more than telling her it was “great,” Ellis said.
“For a year I couldn’t find any answers,” she said.
These Utah moms are not alone. Sixty percent of U.S. voters polled in May said they have seen, read, or heard “nothing at all” about the standards. To rectify this in Utah, these moms and dozens of other parents founded Utahns Against Common Core. Other groups have composed brochures and begun approaching state representatives.
Cutting Classic Literature
The Common Core replaces literature with “informational” reading in large portions of many states’ curriculums.
“When I found out they are slashing classic literature I was really bothered,” Swasey said. “That’s like book burning. If you don’t allow the child access to the literature it is the same thing as saying the literature doesn’t exist.”
The Core also requires students to take algebra in ninth grade instead of eighth.
“My sixth grader is adept at math,” Ellis said. “It really bothers me that with the Common Core the only way for him to advance as his older siblings did is to skip a grade. I see value in him staying with his peers.”
Shifting the Curriculum
In addition to these practical issues, the Core is legally dubious, says Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute.
The federal government is paying for two state coalitions to develop tests aligned with the Core, but it is illegal for the federal government to develop curriculum.
“The people who develop these tests cannot develop tests without developing specific curriculum and instructing teachers how they should teach,” Stergios said.
The Pioneer Institute asked two former U.S. Education Department lawyers to analyze the laws that might enable the federal government’s involvement. They concluded its involvement with the Core was illegal, Stergios said.
“These two groups, funded by the federal government, specifically state they will develop curriculum,” he said.
Swasey says she too is concerned about the program.
“It’s not a national curriculum, but it is a nationally controlled testing program and controlled standards. If you do that, you don’t need to control the curriculum,” she said.
Image by OcecStudents.