Attorney General affirms legality of Common Core

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert addresses children from Wasatch Elementary School during a visit on Feb. 20, 2013. The governor recently requested that Utah's attorney general review the legality of the Common Core Standards for public education.  (Utah.gov)
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert addresses children from Wasatch Elementary School during a visit on Feb. 20, 2013. The governor recently requested that Utah’s attorney general review the legality of the Common Core Standards for public education. (Utah.gov)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes affirmed the legality of Utah’s Common Core Standards on Oct. 7, an issue that has caused recent controversy in Utah’s education systems.

Gov. Gary Herbert recently requested a legal review of the standards in an effort to settle divisive issues in education and address any questions regarding federal involvement with Common Core.

“What we now have are objective and legally reviewed facts,” Herbert said in a press release. “For those whose view has been that Utah has always held control of its own education standards, they can rest assured they are correct. For those who have been concerned the federal government has taken some degree of control of Utah’s education system, they can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Reyes found that by adopting the Common Core Standards, Utah has not ceded authority over the standards and curriculum. Also, Utah charter schools or local school boards have authority to control their curriculum, and there are no partnerships or programs that have indirect control on the curriculum.

Reyes also found that Utah is not bound by federal entanglement with regard to academic standards. The state did not receive federal money to adopt Common Core Standards, and Utah did not acquiesce education control or state sovereignty by adopting Common Core.

Common Core is short for Common Core State Standards. According to the official website, Common Core is a set of clear college and career-ready standards for grades K–12 in language arts and math created by state education chiefs and governors in 48 states.

“I believe that one of the reasons that the Common Core State Standards continue to be misunderstood is because people across the country have come to use the term ‘Common Core’ for anything they are concerned about in public education in general,” said Tami Pyfer, educational advisor at the governor’s office. “The biggest misconception about the Common Core is that it is something more than standards, that it is perhaps a prescribed curriculum, that it is a testing system … and that states are no longer in control of their standards.”

Pyfer said this is untrue and that the standards being implemented are similar to the ones Utah has had in those subject areas for the past 30 years.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks during the Utah Republican Party nominating convention. Reyes recently reviewed the Utah's Common Core Standards and found them legal. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks during the Utah Republican Party nominating convention. Reyes recently reviewed Utah’s Common Core Standards and found them legal. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

According to Pyfer,abandoning Common Core would require a return to the old standards for math and English language arts, or a re-writing of those standards, which would not solve the concerns people have with testing and curriculum.

“We cannot adequately resolve these problems until we first clearly define the problems,” Pyfer said.

Active anti-Common Core lobbyist and former Utah court of appeals judge Norm Jackson was not impressed with the attorney general’s findings.

“It helps very little in my mind,” Jackson said. “You can’t settle an issue that’s a moving target because it is changing everyday.”

Jackson is unsatisfied because he feels there were issues that should have also been addressed but were ignored. One of those issues regards the current members of the state board of education.

“All the members of the school board were unconstitutionally elected,” Jackson said. “That was not addressed.”

Jackson is referring to a federal court ruling in September by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, declaring that the previous system had no neutral criteria in the interview and selection process. Since the state board of education is influential regarding decisions about Common Core, Jackson felt this issue should have been addressed.

Pyfer said Common Core State Standards were adopted in August 2010 because Utah’s universities and colleges were seeing a problem with incoming freshmen not being ready for college-level math and writing.

Jackson said that Common Core was adopted because of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund of 2009, where the federal government offered Utah, and every other state, $129 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The funds were specifically granted to be used to progress student achievement and improvement through education.

According to Utah’s State Office of Education website, the Common Core Standards were created to address the problem of low expectations. The standards are raising the bar to ensure that Utah’s students are globally competitive.

“Unfortunately, no matter how we move forward, we will never satisfy all the critics,” Herbert said. “But we cannot let our desire for ‘the perfect’ be the enemy of ‘the good.’ We must work together, and we must keep the focus on the success of our students.”

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