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Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday that he continues to receive calls and letters complaining about the Common Core State Standards despite encouraging the Utah Board of Education to move beyond the controversial grade-level benchmarks last year.
Those complaints typically lack specificity, Herbert said, and often lump unrelated areas of academic concern under the umbrella of Common Core, which outlines the minimum math and English skills students are expected to master each year.
Herbert said beyond his annual proposed budget, his office has little authority over the operations of Utah classrooms or the lessons taught.
"Most people think the governor has a lot more to do with public education," he said. "We have a little bit of a bully pulpit, but, other than that, there's not a lot that I have to do with making decisions on policy."
He told school board members Friday there is still work to be done in addressing the disconnect caused by Utah's adoption of the Common Core in 2010.
State law requires a periodic review of school standards, and various updates have distanced Utah's grade-level benchmarks from the Common Core, which was developed by a consortium of state leaders and national education experts.
"You, this board, decide what our standards are in the state of Utah," Herbert said. "This board needs to own that."
Herbert's visit to the school board last year came during the governor's re-election campaign. His Republican opponent at the time, Jonathan Johnson, had criticized the governor for allowing the Common Core to be adopted under his watch.
Delegates at the 2016 Utah Republican Convention voted 55 percent to 45 percent in favor of Johnson, forcing Herbert into a primary, which the governor easily won.
That election also saw a wave of newcomers voted into state school board seats, including three freshman board members who are part of the grass-roots advocacy group Utahns Against Common Core, which opposes the grade-level benchmarks as well as federal involvement in education and standardized testing.
But without the pressures of an election cycle, Herbert's Friday visit to the state school board was subdued.
He spoke about the need for an education system that supports students from preschool through higher education, and touted Utah's increased graduation rates and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the "nation's report card."
"The trend is good," Herbert said. "We're moving in the right direction."
Board member Joel Wright told Herbert that schools, particularly charter schools, need flexibility from state rules to experiment.
Wright gave the example of electric car company Tesla, which he said was viewed with skepticism when it launched more than a decade ago but is increasingly seen as the future of the automobile industry.
"Let our charter schools amend their charter to choose whatever curriculum or whatever annual test they want," Wright said. "We need that kind of real innovation. We want to encourage the next Tesla Motors of education."