By: Kraig Powell, The Deseret News
Utah Republicans stand at a crucial crossroads of education policy. As Jane Austen’s endearing Mr. Bennet solemnly informed his daughter Elizabeth, “An unhappy alternative is before you.”
On April 12, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution condemning the Common Core State Standards as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children,” and “a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”
In contrast, on May 2, the Utah State Board of Education unanimously passed its own resolution praising the Common Core’s mathematics and English standards adopted in Utah for their “academic rigor” and “career and college ready outcomes.” The Board’s resolution asks Utah’s governor, members of the Legislature and political party delegates to resist the demands calling for withdrawal from the Common Core, and to support teachers, parents and students in a successful transition to the new core standards.
Several thousand delegates of the Utah Republican Party will gather in Sandy this weekend for their annual state convention. One of the items scheduled for consideration is a resolution similar to the April RNC measure, condemning the Common Core standards as an “unproven experiment on our children” that will promote an “inferior, un-American curriculum.” The proposed Utah GOP resolution calls on the governor, state legislators and the state school board to withdraw from — and discontinue use of — the Common Core standards.
As Utah’s Republican delegates consider the competing proposals from these ardent suitors, they would do well to remember the genesis of the recent educational standards movement.
Even though President Barack Obama endorses the Common Core standards, it was primarily Republicans, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who began the push for better outcomes and greater accountability in public education. Researching and implementing objective criteria for educational performance was seen as a way to make schools operate more like businesses, a goal frequently lauded by Republicans.
This emphasis on measurable data and best practices in turn attracted the support of the private sector and business community, including national and local Chambers of Commerce, who have lined up squarely behind the Common Core.
One of the most puzzling criticisms of Common Core voiced by some Republicans is that the development of the standards has been fostered and funded by “private third parties,” as the RNC resolution charges, or by “private foundations,” as the Utah GOP resolution complains.
Republicans typically encourage action by the private sector to improve the economy and society. No one is forcing these private organizations to support and inform the educational standards movement, so they must believe the initiative will produce improvements for business and industry.
As Republicans, we need to make up our minds. Are we for better results in public education? Then we need to continually review and revise our expectations.
Are we for greater accountability in public education? Then we need to establish rigorous and objective criteria that can be effectively assessed.
We can do all of this on a state-led, voluntary basis, without accepting any dictates or unfunded mandates from the federal government and without intruding on citizens’ privacy rights.
Much of the railing against Common Core by Republicans seems to yearn for the old one-room schoolhouse where the teacher had complete control and taught whatever she wished because she knew best, with no bureaucrats questioning her effectiveness.
Fortunately, modern studies have taught most reasonable Republicans of today that in our rapidly-changing technological society, such a cavalier approach to educational accountability is a recipe for national and international disaster.
We Republicans need to swallow both our pride and our prejudice and embrace the happy marriage of sound research and educational standards that is the Utah Core.
Kraig Powell represents District 54 in the Utah House of Representatives.