A panel was convened at Utah's Salt Lake Community College Miller Campus to discuss the downsides of adopting the Common Core State Standards this week. The Standards, which are a set of benchmarks in mathematics and English, were developed over the last two years. Although the adoption of the Common Core is entirely voluntary, panel members still characterized them as an intrusion by the federal government into an area that should be left entirely under the state control.
As one of the states intimately involved with the drafting of the standards, Utah had already made a commitment to adopt them once they are finalized. Recently, however, this decision has attracted increasingly stiff criticism. The panel participants voices some of the concerns expressed by critics during the two-hour event, with the organizer, Alisa Ellis, saying that she hoped to expose the 300 attendees to the point of view that's different from that expressed by the State Office of Education, which is supportive of Common Core adoption.
"It's so important to look at all sides of every issue," Ellis said, "so we are here to present the other side to what the state school board and those are mentioning about it."
Ellis was also critical of the amount of information that had been provided to parents prior to the state's decision to implement the Common Core standards. She said she has six children in Utah public schools and did not know about the new standards until the decision had already been made.
The panel participants were Emmett McGroarty, the senior director of the American Principals Project, James Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute's Center for School Reform, Bill Evers of Stanford University and Kent Talbert, an education attorney. Evers is also doing double duty as a consultant and adviser for the campaign of the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but insisted that he was there in his capacity as an education researcher.
Evers said it's hard to draw a conclusion about nationalized education by looking at other countries, because there are countries performing better, worse and equal to the U.S. with national standards. He said a good comparison is Australia and Canada, which have seen education progress with limited federal control.
"They, without nationalization, have climbed," he said. "They have surpassed the United States."
Evers also took issue with the fact that the curriculum laid down by the new standards wasn't as rigorous as the one currently employed in the state, with mathematics standards in particular being a step backwards. Currently, students in the state take Algebra I while they are still in middle school in 8th grade, but if the Common Core is implemented, that course will be delayed until 9th grade.