Utah Republicans plan to consider a resolution asking state leaders to drop new Common Core academic standards at their convention Saturday.
The resolution's supporters say it's an important step toward educating Utahns about the standards, which they say are "un-American" and will lower the quality of education in Utah. It's a resolution, however, that many state education leaders oppose and of which even a number of Republicans are wary.
The state school board adopted the standards in 2010, along with most other states, in an effort to better prepare students for college and careers. The standards, developed as part of a states-led initiative, outline the concepts and skills students should learn in each grade in math and language arts, while leaving curriculum (or how the standards should be taught) up to local schools and teachers. They are now being used in Utah schools.
The resolution, however, calls the Core "inferior nationally-based standards" and claims the Core binds Utah to the standards. It also says "'student behavior indicators' which includes testing for mental health, social and cultural (i.e. religious) habits and attitudes and family status are now being used for Common Core tests and assessments."
They're all points state education leaders have refuted. State education leaders say the standards are more rigorous than Utah's previous ones, that Utah is not bound to them, and that they're interested only in student performance data. Students have not yet started taking tests reflecting the Common Core.
"It's my personal opinion that the resolution contains several less than accurate statements," State Superintendent Martell Menlove told the Legislative Education Interim Committee on Wednesday when asked for his thoughts on the resolution.
The GOP's Resolutions Committee also expressed some concern with the resolution, passing it along to the convention with an "unfavorable" recommendation. A note at the top of the resolution states that the unfavorable recommendation is not a statement for or against the Common Core, but rather "based entirely on the opinion that the resolution contains some inaccurate or misleading data that is inflammatory in nature."
But Gayle Ruzicka, head of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum and a state delegate endorser of the resolution, said there's nothing incorrect about it. The resolution was submitted by Cherilyn Eagar, a conservative activist and former congressional candidate.
"There is a whole page of citations documenting everything on that resolution, and we're getting great support," Ruzicka said. She said parents were left out of the process by which the state school board originally adopted the standards, and the resolution will help to educate them. "We're helping them understand."
The board adopted the standards in a public meeting and Utah media wrote about the standards both before and after their adoption. But Ruzicka said with a change so drastic, public meetings should have been held across the state and fliers sent home to parents from schools.
"You have to take it to the people," Ruzicka said. "The people aren't supposed to have to come to them."
Leading up to Saturday's GOP convention, the group Utahns Against Common Core has been sending pamphlets to delegates urging them to oppose the standards.
The State Office of Education has also been mailing out materials, including a resolution the state school board approved this month expressing support for the Core. Some have questioned whether it's a fair use of tax dollars for the State Office of Education to mail out such materials.
Brenda Hales, state deputy superintendent, said Wednesday she wasn't sure if public money was spent to mail the materials, which she said went to Republicans, Democrats, lawmakers and the governor. But she said even if public dollars were used, the state school board did nothing wrong.
"The board didn't see this as a political issue," Hales said. "They see this as discussing a primary responsibility of the board and setting the record straight."
Mark Thomas, chief deputy in the Utah Lt. Governor's Office, said Wednesday he wasn't aware of anything in the state's election laws that would prohibit the state school board from sending out such information. Utah law prohibits public entities from making "an expenditure from public funds for political purposes or to influence a ballot proposition." But political purposes is defined as an act done to influence votes for or against candidates, and the resolution does not qualify as a ballot proposition.
The vote at the Utah GOP convention on Saturday follows a resolution passed last month by the Republican National Committee condemning the standards.