Will Utah Fight for Parental Control After Feds Deny ESSA Opt-Out Waiver?

So much for returning educational autonomy to the states.

In his inaugural address, President Trump sounded a clarion call for transferring power from the federal government to the people:

[T]oday we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.  What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Fine words, but they haven’t been put into action with respect to education policy. 

The most recent example comes from Utah. In early May the Utah State Board of Education requested a waiver, which U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is statutorily empowered to grant, from a federal testing requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That mandate is that states include at least 95% of their students in the statewide tests. This provision is intended to ensuring the reliability of federally mandated accountability measures (notice how often the words “require” and “mandate” come up in discussions of the supposedly state-empowering ESSA). If its testing participation rate drops below 95%, the state must count every non-tested student as zero or non-proficient. Although highly misleading, this calculation ratchets down the state’s “academic achievement indicator” and can result in various negative federal consequences.

Utah requested the waiver because state law specifically protects the rights of parents to opt their children out of statewide assessments. It also forbids the State Board of Education from imposing negative consequences on schools or employees because of the number of opt-outs. 

One reason for the rising opt-out numbers is discontent with the SAGE (Student Assessment for Growth and Excellence) test. SAGE was developed for Utah by the American Institutes for Research, which is not an academic-assessment company but rather a behavioral-research organization. In increasing numbers, parents have concluded they don’t want their children subjected to problem-riddled testing that hasn’t been proven academically valid – especially when, as shown by Dr. Christopher Tienken, Common Core testing is designed more to centralize control over education policy than to benefit student learning.

The clash here, then, was between parents’ inherent right to govern their children’s education and indeed protect them from harm, as explicitly protected by state law, and federal mandates. Guess which won?

On May 31 the U.S. Department of Education (USED) denied the request for a waiver. USED found that a waiver wouldn’t “advance academic achievement” as required by the statutory waiver provision, because failure to force test participation would mean not all students were subjected to federally incentivized standards and federally mandated tests. 

Significantly, the denial letter came from Jason Botel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, appointed to that position by DeVos. Mr. Botel is a shining example of the problematic personnel she has brought to the department – he publicly praised Common Core (which DeVos’s boss vigorously opposes), he supports a strong federal role in education, and he has spoken favorably of the radical group Black Lives Matter. His pro-federal-power predilections are clear in this dismissal of the Utah waiver request. 

Utah isn’t the only state to be slapped down by federal bureaucrats over the test-participation mandate. Colorado suffered the same fate until it reached a compromise with USED in early May, essentially establishing two different accountability systems – one state, one federal. And rather than fight for state and parental rights, Colorado educrats agreed to come up with more incentives to lure students into the statewide assessments.

The question is, will the Utah State Board of Education wilt under federal pressure, or will it stand and fight? At a hearing on this issue, local school board member Wendy Hart pointed out what’s at stake here – if the State Board backs down, thus forcing more students to undergo behavioral assessment aligned with Common Core, it will fail to uphold not only state law and the 10th Amendment to the federal Constitution but also the fundamental right of parents to educate and protect their children. 

Utah law is clear about who’s in charge of education: “A student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary and supportive role to the parent or guardian.” The Utah Supreme Court has identified “parents’ inherent right and authority to rear their own children” as “fundamental to our society and . . . basic to our constitutional order. . . .” In other words, what President Trump promised at his inauguration has actual statutory and judicial force in Utah.

Will the State Board of Education stand on these principles? Will Betsy DeVos? If not, both of them should be called to account. This should be a YUGE issue in Utah political races in November.

About The Projected Costs To Change Utah’s Standards

Photo Credit: Soupstance (CC-By-2.0)

I wanted to follow-up on an article about Utah’s projected costs to change its academic standards.

Utah State Board of Education member Spencer Stokes was the person who floated the $100 million number to replace Common Core.

Here is a little you should know about Stokes. He is a lobbyist for Education First. Christel Swasey wrote about their involvement with Utah education policy.

What I find fascinating about Stokes complaint about the Common Core replacement costs is the fact he is on board with the push to raise the state’s income and sales tax in order to raise $700 Million for the state to spend on education.

Yet he wants parents and opponents of Common Core to pay for its replacement.

Lisa Cummins, who serves on the Utah State Board of Education, sent me the report that was cited that Spencer based his numbers on that you can read below:

I would also encourage you to look at the total state appropriations for education in Utah which is $3.4 Billion (a total of $4.8 Billion).

Here is a helpful flowchart.

Even if it did cost $100 million, and I’m not convinced that will, how much more will Utahns have to pay down the road for poor standards? $100 million may seem like a bargain.

It Is Too Expensive to Replace Common Core?

It is too expensive to replace Common Core.

That’s the argument one member of the Utah State Board of Education made last week.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

Utah opponents of the Common Core State Standards may need to foot a $100 million bill if they’re committed to replacing the controversial education benchmarks, according to state school board member Spencer Stokes.

During a Thursday meeting of the school board’s Standards and Assessment Committee, Stokes said it is simply too expensive for Utah to start from scratch on a new set of grade-level standards for mathematics and English education.

“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that the Legislature is going to give us the money needed to create a true Utah core,” Stokes said. “In my mind, that chapter of this debate has closed because there’s no funding for it.”

Stokes’ explanation met resistance from board colleague Lisa Cummins, a member of the advocacy group Utahns Against Common Core.

She said her constituents don’t believe the debate is over and are not satisfied allowing a “socialist program” to be rendered impenetrable by financial constraints.

“Then they can pay for it,” Stokes responded. “The point is, the Legislature won’t give us the money.”


A 2016 report found that comprehensive revision of the Utah’s math and English standards, including the development of new tests and instructional materials and training for educators, could cost up to $38 million for the Utah Board of Education and another $87 million for local school districts.

First, if it will cost $100 million to replace Common Core, how much did it cost the state to implement it in the first place? I don’t recall the Board bemoaning the cost of new standards back then.  I would also love to see a copy of this report the Tribune cites as there was no mention of who conducted the study, nor a link to the report. Since Mr. Stokes is throwing that figure around he needs to state where he’s getting his numbers.

Second, based on a study sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, American Principles Project, The Federalist Society, and Pacific Research Institute in 2012 that pegged Common Core’s cost at $16 billion nationally I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say Utah spent more to implement Common Core. At least they won’t have to shell out more for broadband which would be a bargain.

Third, how much will it cost Utah, in the long run, to continue with these reforms that have so far have produced no fruit except, at best, a decrease in NAEP scores and increased achievement gaps?

Anti-Common Core Victories at the State Level

Governor-elect Chris Sununu (R-NH) said Common Core "needs to be scrapped."

Governor-elect Chris Sununu (R-NH) said Common Core “needs to be scrapped.”

Much has been made about what Donald Trump’s election may mean for federal involvement in education, and rightly so. President-Elect Trump has the ability to show real change is coming or if status quo will be maintained when he nominates his Secretary of Education.

That said, what has been under-reported, is the victories that anti-Common Core candidates had at the state level. The 74 points out these changes may represent a greater threat to Common Core than Donald Trump does.

Here is a list of the candidates they highlighted who won on Election Day.

  • Governor-elect Chris Sununu (R-NH) he said during a debate that “Common Core must be scrapped.”
  • Mark Johnson, a Republican who won the North Carolina Superintendent for Public Instruction race, ran on repealing Common Core.
  • North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest, the state’s leading anti-Common Core voice, won reelection.
  • Governor-elect Eric Grietens (R-MO) said that he opposed Common Core.
  • Four anti-Common Core candidates were elected to the Utah State Board of Education.
  • Elsie Arntzen, a Common Core skeptic, won the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction race.

This of course does not include any state legislative races. Kentucky’s House of Representatives just flipped Republican so I’m cautiously optimistic that a Common Core repeal can happen since Governor Matt Bevin (R-KY) campaigned on repealing Common Core. Republicans flipped the Iowa Senate and expanded their majority in the Iowa House, but I’m less optimistic that change can happen since Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) line-item vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have delayed implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I believe the legislature possibly have the votes to override the Governor’s veto, but I’m not as convinced legislative leadership wants that battle. We’ll see.

The Utah State Board of Education Got a Shake-up


One of the more exciting events from Election Day last week in light of our fight against Common Core is that Utah elected three anti-Common Core candidates to the Utah State Board of Education.

Utah has had a large grassroots effort to rid their state of Common Core for quite some time so it is exciting to see some electoral fruit. Christel Swasey reported last week that Alisa Ellis, Michelle Boulter and Lisa Cummins all won seats on the state board which completed a purge of incumbents from the board. “This election showed what can happen when people actually get to vote, instead of having the governor appoint board members, as had happened for so many years in the past,” Swasey wrote.

This put the future of Common Core in the state in doubt.

Alisa Ellis, a newly elected member of the Utah state board of education, says the core standards often symbolizes much more than it actually is.

“Common core basically has been a nickname for a much larger education reform,” says Ellis.

The common core standards were originally created by governors and state superintendents and then adopted on a state by state basis. This was never a federal requirement, but President Obama did incentivize states with extra funding.

Simply put, the core is a set of subject specific standards meant to guide teacher instruction. But Ellis, and at least two other elected board members, say it’s bigger than that.

“With all of these reforms is a loss of local control and a system where accountability shifts from the local community to far off distant bureaucrats,” says Ellis.

Utah will be interesting to watch.

Herbert Has Seen the Light on Common Core, SAGE (In an Election Year)


Well, this is amusing. Utah Governor Gary Herbert now calls for an end to Common Core and SAGE (the test Utah uses after leaving Smarter Balanced).

Deseret News reports:

In a letter to the Utah State Board of Education, Herbert noted the ongoing controversy of Utah’s 2010 adoption of the Common Core, a set of standards developed by a national education consortium that raised the bar for student performance in math and English.

He asked the board to adopt “uniquely Utah standards,” while maintaining high academic expectations for students, keeping the federal government out of Utah education decisions, and preserving local control.

“We have learned what works and what does not,” Herbert’s letter states. “I believe it is an appropriate time to fix those areas that have not worked and improve on those that do.”

Herbert has been a road block to Common Core’s repeal in the past, has been generally tone deaf on the subject to his constituents and now is…. ding, ding, ding… running for reelection!

His challenger, Jonathan Johnson, is staunchly ant-Common Core. Herbert also experienced a slap down at the Utah Republican State Convention when they voted to force a primary. He also sent this letter to the Utah State Board of Education after Johnson called for an end to Common Core that same day.

Oak Norton of Utahns Against Common Core shares my skepticism and points out a salient fact.

With Jonathan Johnson defeating Governor Herbert at the GOP convention 55%-45%, largely influenced by Common Core issues, the Governor no doubt had an awakening. I have never doubted the Governor’s intentions to provide a quality education to Utah children, but I still find this move politically opportunistic to try and salvage his chances of being re-elected. Of course, the Governor can make this call knowing he has no authority to actually carry it out. That belongs to the state board…

Read the letter for yourself below:

David Crandall, the chair of the Utah State Board of Education, released the following statement in response to Governor Herbert’s letter:

The Utah State Board of Education is cognizant of the issues surrounding the 2010 adoption and implementation of new mathematics and English language arts standards. We appreciate the governor’s perspective on this issue and his continued support of the State Board.

No set of standards is perfect, and we always look for ways to improve upon them. For example, the Board recently approved an overhaul of more than 50 percent of the K-6 mathematics standards. As has been our practice, we anticipate reexamining all academic standards at certain intervals with the input of professionals and community members throughout the state. As we look at future development and adoption of standards, we intend to maintain a clear separation between standards and curriculum.

We affirm and agree with maintaining high-quality standards and in keeping instruction and curriculum at local levels, as has historically been the case. As a Board, we have worked to maintain Utah’s autonomy from the federal government and will continue to do so.

We appreciate the governor’s willingness to consider eliminating SAGE from high school and look forward to working with legislators during a special session.

Lawsuit Against Common Core Filed in Utah

The Libertas Institute announced a lawsuit filed against the Utah State Board of Education over the Common Core State Standards.  The lawsuit filed today in Utah’s Third Judicial District Court has six plantiffs, a couple of them who are well known by Truth in American Education readers.

They are:

  • Patti Bateman, who was an elementary school teacher at the time of Common Core’s adoption
  • David Cox, an elementary school teacher
  • Timothy Osborn, who was a member of the Alpine School Board at the time of Common Core’s adoption
  • Christel Swasey, a parent of school aged children and licensed educator
  • Dr. Gary Thompson, a parent of school aged children
  • Steve Whitehouse, a board member of the Maeser Prep Charter School

“Two weeks ago, Governor Herbert announced he had asked the Attorney General to investigate legal issues surrounding Common Core,” said Libertas Institute president Connor Boyack. “We have been conducting our own investigation since January and have identified several violations of the law.”

“Most Utahns believe that local control of education is important,” said Boyack. “We agree, but it’s important to note that local control is not merely about having Utahns managing federal or multi-state programs. The idea behind local control is that the people who are most intimately affected by the product of public education should be involved and able to give input. This did not happen with the adoption of Common Core—and it should have.”

Their six page brief petitions the judge for an petitions the judge for an “order enjoining the Board from further implementing Common Core in Utah’s public schools, from requiring Utah’s public schools to further adopt or abide by Common Core, and from enforcing Common Core in Utah’s public schools.”

Wendy Hart: Utah Bites Into the Common Core

The video below was created by Wendy Hart, a candidate for the Alpine School District board in Utah, created an excellent video about Utah’s adoption of the Common Core.  Check it out and read the accompanying blog post.

Common Core Propaganda Bill in Utah House

Side_view_Utah_State_CapitolOak Norton wrote an op/ed about HJR008 at Deseret News, but I wanted to share the text of the bill here.  The language of House Joint Resolution 008,  which is a “joint resolution on the benefits of adopting the Common Core Standards,” says:

    This joint resolution of the Legislature recognizes the significant benefits that have
11 come to Utah’s students due to the adoption of the Utah Core Standards.
12 Highlighted Provisions:
13     This resolution:
14     .    recognizes that the adoption of the Utah Core Standards by the Utah State Board of
15 Education has brought significant benefits to the students of Utah as they prepare
16 for college and careers.
17 Special Clauses:

18     None

20 Be it resolved by the Legislature of the state of Utah:
21     WHEREAS, Common Core standards are a set of Mathematics and English Language
22 Arts content standards adopted by 45 states;
23     WHEREAS, Common Core standards consist of concepts, knowledge, and skills that
24 students need to understand and master as they move through their schooling and that prepare
25 them for further education or careers after high school graduation;
26     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards were developed by a state-led effort known
27 as the Common Core State Standards Initiative and were coordinated by the National

28 Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School
29 Officers;
30     WHEREAS, the process used to write the standards ensured they were informed by the
31 best state and international standards, the best student test scores, the experience of teachers,
32 content experts, states, leading thinkers, feedback from the general public, and the most
33 important international models, as well as research and input from numerous sources, including
34 state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, and professional
35 organizations;
36     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards were designed to build upon the most
37 advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and their careers;
38     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards are research- and evidence-based and aligned
39 with college and work expectations;
40     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards include rigorous and essential skills and
41 knowledge in Mathematics and English Language Arts that progress and increase in depth from
42 kindergarten through twelfth grade and are clear, understandable, and require mastery of both
43 basic and complex concepts;
44     WHEREAS, the standards have made careful use of a large and growing body of
45 evidence, including scholarly research, surveys on what skills are required of students entering
46 college and workforce training programs, assessment data identifying college- and career-ready
47 performance, and comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations;
48     WHEREAS, a particular standard was accepted only when the best available evidence
49 indicated that its mastery was essential for college and career readiness in a
50 twenty-first-century, globally competitive society;
51     WHEREAS, in their design and content, refined through successive drafts and
52 numerous rounds of feedback, the standards represent a synthesis of the best elements of
53 standards-related work to date and an important advance over previous standards;
54     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards have been endorsed by an unprecedented and
55 wide variety of businesses, private foundations, educational organizations, research groups, and
56 experts in reading and mathematics;
57     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards have been endorsed by a wide variety of
58 politicians, educational organizations, research groups, businesses, private foundations, and

59 experts in reading and mathematics, including the National Council of Teachers of
60 Mathematics, the American Statistical Association, the Fordham Foundation, the National
61 Parent Teacher Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the United
62 States Chamber of Commerce, ACT, Inc., Aetna, the Boeing Company, Dell Inc., IBM, ING
63 Direct, Intel, MetaMetrics Inc., Microsoft, the National Association of Manufacturers, the
64 Governor’s Education Excellence Commission, the Utah State Board of Regents, Utah
65 Technology Council, United Way, and Prosperity 2020;
66     WHEREAS, on September 13, 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated, “The
67 Common Core State Standards are a building block in our state’s education system meant to
68 ensure that teachers and districts can innovate within a framework of high expectations and
69 accountability. They are based on the fundamental belief that every child in every classroom
70 deserves an education that will properly equip them with the skills they need for college and a
71 career. Our aggressive implementation of these standards in partnership with districts will
72 ensure that our children have an education that will serve them well in the next stages of their
73 lives”;
74     WHEREAS, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stated, in support of the core standards,
75 “It is the states’ responsibility to foster an education system that leads to rising student
76 achievement. State leaders, educators, teachers and parents are empowered to ensure every
77 student has access to the best curriculum and learning environment. Governors and lawmakers
78 across the country are acting to adopt bold education reform policies. This is the beauty of our
79 federal system. It provides 50 testing sites for reform and innovation. The Common Core
80 State Standards are an example of states recognizing a problem, then working together, sharing
81 what works and what doesn’t”;
82     WHEREAS, the Utah State Board of Education began the effort to revise its
83 mathematics core standards in 2007 after concerns were raised about the rigor of the state’s
84 current standards;
85     WHEREAS, these revisions are based on the need to ensure that students learn what
86 they need to know to be successful after high school;
87     WHEREAS, in June of 2009, the Utah State Board of Education adopted four promises,
88 which define Utah’s current strategic efforts: (1) ensure that every Utah student gains the
89 literacy and numeracy skills they need for success; (2) ensure that all Utah children receive

90 high quality instruction in every classroom every day; (3) make certain that all students are
91 engaged in curriculum th
at embodies high standards and relevance to the world students will
92 encounter after high school; and (4) ensure that high quality, effective assessments inform both
93 instruction and accountability;
94     WHEREAS, the Utah State Board of Education agreed that participation in the
95 development of new Common Core standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts
96 would serve as a critical part of its efforts to keep those promises;
97     WHEREAS, comments on the standards were solicited and received during two public
98 comment periods;
99     WHEREAS, these comments, many of which helped shape the final version of the
100 standards, came from teachers, parents, school administrators, and other citizens concerned
101 with education policy;
102     WHEREAS, on June 4, 2010, the Utah State Board of Education gave preliminary
103 approval for Utah to move ahead in accepting the Common Core standards as a framework for
104 setting the state’s own standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts, and the Common
105 Core standards were placed on the board’s website for review;
106     WHEREAS, during the summer of 2010, the Utah State Office of Education held
107 several meetings where the Common Core standards were discussed;
108     WHEREAS, meetings included conversations with superintendents, charter directors,
109 curriculum directors, legislators, Parent Teacher Association members, higher education
110 representatives, and business leaders;
111     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts
112 were approved during the board’s August 6, 2010, meeting, having been fully examined and
113 vetted, and adopted by the Utah State Board of Education as the Utah Core Standards for
114 Mathematics and English Language Arts;
115     WHEREAS, the new Utah Core Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts
116 are part of the Utah Core Standards that include standards for other subjects such as Science,
117 Social Studies, Career Technical Education, Fine Arts, Health, World Languages, and Driver
118 Education;
119     WHEREAS, Utah Core Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what
120 students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them;

121     WHEREAS, Utah Core Standards are designed to be relevant to the real world,
122 reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers;
123     WHEREAS, with American students fully prepared for the future, Utah’s communities
124 will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy;
125     WHEREAS, while Utah Core Standards help teachers organize and prepare for
126 instruction, like building codes help an architect prepare a blueprint, the curricula used to
127 implement the Utah Core Standards varies according to district or charter school needs, like
128 homes built using building standards or codes are not identical, but are built based on the needs
129 and values of the owner while still following the building code;
130     WHEREAS, the Utah Core Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, nor do they tell
131 schools or districts what materials must be used in classrooms;
132     WHEREAS, the new Utah Core Standards are an important first step to meet the
133 promise that every student leave high school with a high-quality, relevant education and ready
134 for the future;
135     WHEREAS, the Common Core standards were not developed or mandated by the
136 federal government, are not federal or national standards, and may be withdrawn from adoption
137 or changed by the Utah State Board of Education at any time;
138     WHEREAS, local teachers, principals, superintendents, and others will decide how the
139 Utah Core Standards are to be met and how best to help students meet the standards;
140     WHEREAS, teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the
141 individual needs of the students in their classrooms;
142     WHEREAS, local teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards will continue
143 to make decisions about curriculum and how their school systems are operated;
144     WHEREAS, the Utah Core Standards are supportive of Utah values and are designed to
145 prepare students to become responsible, literate citizens; and
146     WHEREAS, the Utah Core Standards are based on college, career, and civic readiness
147 that lead to honest labor and are designed for the greater common good of Utah’s citizens:
148     NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah
149 recognizes that the adoption of the Utah Core Standards have brought significant benefits to the
150 students of Utah as they prepare for college and careers.
151     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Utah State

152 Board of Regents, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the Council of
153 Chief State School Officers, and the Utah State Office of Education for distribution to each of
154 Utah’s school districts.

There is absolutely no policy here.  It is nothing, it accomplishes nothing.  Utah is still utilizing the Common Core.  The only thing it accomplishes is to push the talking points given by those who advocate for the Common Core State Standards.  Many of which have been thoroughly debunked.   This seems to be an act of desperation.  So I wonder what it took for the Utah State Department of Education to convince State Representative Jim Bird to sponsor this useless piece of legislation.

U.S. Department of Education Still Hasn’t Approved Utah SBAC Withdrawal

The Utah State Board of Education voted to leave the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) back in early August.  As a refresher here is the exit process dictated by the SBAC governance document:

  1. A state requesting an exit from the Consortium must submit in writing its reasons for the exit request,
  2. The written explanation must include the statutory or policy reasons for the exit,
  3. The written request must be submitted to the Project Management Partner with the same signatures as required for the Consortium MOU,
  4. The Executive Committee will act upon the request within a week of the request, and
  5. Upon approval of the request, the Project Management Partner will then submit a change of membership to the USED for approval. (emphasis mine)

Sources in Utah tell me that they are still waiting on approval by the U.S. Department of Education.  What’s taking so long?  What happens if they say no?  Will there be some sort of penalty?  Utah was turned down for Race to the Top funds, but they did receive a NCLB waiver.  Could that be in jeopardy?

Update: Karen Effrem of Education Liberty Watch reminded me of this straight forward point… why should they have to approve at all?  Very true, they shouldn’t.  Unfortunately I don’t see Utah’s Governor pulling the nullification card on the DOE.