Saber-Rattling on Common Core

State Senator Mark Madsen (left) and Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales (right)
State Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs, left) and Deputy Superintendent Hales (right)

On Wednesday, education officials climbed Capitol Hill to inform lawmakers of the progress they’re making on implementing the Common Core education system into Utah’s K-12 schools. But the educators were met with an extremely hostile welcome, as Republican lawmakers expressed their animosity towards the Core changes, which have grown increasingly unpopular among conservatives nationwide.

The education officials have been given a three year timeline to implement the Common Core standards, an effort to modernize aging education systems with a goal to help students compete on an international stage. The first year is to be spent on public review and revision of standards, the second year is when standards are adopted, and in the third year such standards are implemented and assessed.

Dave Crandall, President of the Utah State Board of Education, immediately fielded questions from Representative Francis Gibson (Republican – Mapleton), who serves as House Chair of the Education Interim Committee. Gibson wondered why the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) adopted certain standards related to middle-school math and just how quickly the board could change them in light of the fact that, in this situation, USOE standards differ from the national trend. Crandall conceded to the committee that issues surrounding math education are at the heart of complaints surrounding Core standards, but Crandall was quick to remind the legislative committee that the model currently used in statewide math education was created due to pressure by the legislature to meet national and international standards.

[pullquote]”Math scores will never go up until teachers start understanding math and stop using a textbook as a crutch.” – Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales[/pullquote]Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales also spoke of the woes that some teachers go through in relation to math education, pointing out that many high school teachers don’t have a background in calculus, for example, yet teachers are expected to be able to teach the topic to interested students. Hales followed this by emphasizing the importance of continuing education for teachers to ensure that teachers can properly grasp concepts. Quoting a former college professor Hales studied under, she hit her point home by saying that “math scores will never go up until teachers start understanding math and stop using a textbook as a crutch.”

Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) took issue with a marketing campaign that, in Madsen’s mind, is “pushing Common Core and at least making an attempt to marginalize those who have concerns about [the program].” He asked who was responsible for the ads in question. Hales responded that she did not have access to the deep pockets necessary to run such a campaign, but did say that “there are folks in a variety of political camps…on the Far Right and people on the Far Left who are opposed to the CORE. There are also people on the Far Right who support the Core such as Jeb Bush and Condoleezza Wright.”

“Those are Far Right in your mind? Okay.” Madsen quickly added—setting a snide tone for the rest of his questioning. Hales said that she isn’t involved in politics, she is just interested in the students. “I haven’t seen the ads you are talking about” Hales continued, “Oh, you haven’t? Boy, you must not watch much TV” Madsen quipped.

Madsen also claimed that educators are receiving pressure to “shut up and conform with the orthodoxy of Common Core,” although he did not provide any specific examples of who is being pressured or by whom. He also added that he felt that current ad campaign was designed to shun those who disagree with with Common Core. The Saratoga Springs Senator went on to plead with Hales to acknowledge that there are those who disagree with the policy change.


“I am sorry, who asked you to solve [this problem]?” – Senator Mark Madsen

“This committee” Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales


Hales would acknowledge that the change to the higher standards has not been easy, but “the key is making sure that we all work together.”

“A lot of stock has been put into how this is reconfigured,” Madsen continued, “but when you have a teacher in the classroom that doesn’t know math…but the issue is, if the teacher doesn’t know math how does [Core Education] overcome that?”

“There is nothing more important than the teacher in the classroom,” Hales noted. “If teachers don’t have a sound knowledge of the content and Pedagogy (the science of education), they are not going to be successful…The question in 2007 that we were asked to solve was…” Madson then interrupted Hales by asking “I am sorry, who asked you to solve [this problem]?” “This committee,” Hales responded, noting that several conservative lawmakers who signed off on a letter asking the USOE to investigate ways to improve standards and align them with international standards. Hales’ comments were continually interrupted by Madsen, who uttered dismissive “uh-huhs” and “sure’s” throughout her statement. Madsen would also brush away her response by noting that the letter was seven years old and that he had hoped something had been done in that time to address such issues.

“Is it realistic to ever hope that we will have teachers that just come out of teacher training…and know math without having the state to come up with the funds to remediate our teachers – any hope that we just have teachers that know math?” Madsen added as an aside. “Absolutely,” Hales replied.

Outgoing Senator Pat Jones (Democrat – Salt Lake City) attempted to pull the increasingly aggressive questioning back to the question at hand, asking if everything boiled down to a communication issue and growing pains associated with the transition towards Common Core.

[pullquote]”I have been called the Great Satan” -Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales[/pullquote] Hales wholeheartedly agreed, noting just how much information, misinformation, disinformation, fear, and political attacks have become commonplace in the discussion surrounding Common Core, going so far as to tell the committee that she has been called the Great Satan by opponents of the Core standards, and that some citizens have asked the LDS Church to excommunicate her. Hales reaffirmed, however, her commitment to improving education in the state of Utah.

Representative Lowry Snow (Republican – St. George) wondered if the change would ultimately be beneficial when compared to the traditional model. “Are you confidant that we are headed in the right direction,” Snow asked, “versus those who have said to me that we need to back up and go back to where we were?”

“If you go back to where we were,” Hales confidently responded, “that means no 66 by 2020. Guarantee it, take it to the bank,” referencing the statewide policy goal goal of having 66 percent of the Utah workforce obtain a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020. Hales also assured the committee that if everything is in place such as  continuing education for teachers, providing ways to air complaints, and involving the community, the Common Core standards will lead to success for students

10 Replies to “Saber-Rattling on Common Core

  1. One of the three primary author’s of Common Core math testified to the Massachusetts state school board that Common Core math won’t prepare students for selective colleges. Watch him say it in this free documentary.
    If you want to know about Utah’s 2007 math standards, which were superior to Common Core and didn’t need changed, check this article out for the history.
    The bottom line is the historical facts show the USOE doesn’t really care about the quality of the math standards in Utah. They care about federal money and the chance to get Race to the Top funds. We’re now pushing young children extremely hard (I believe to the detriment of many), and students in upper grades too slow (also to their detriment). Most students now finish algebra in 9th grade under Common Core as opposed to 8th grade under our 2007 standards. Common Core wasn’t piloted ANYWHERE. It wasn’t “internationally benchmarked”. Nobody can honestly say these standards are an improvement, especially considering we signed on to participate in Common Core before the standards came out, didn’t know who was on the drafting committees, and adopted them on first reading two days after the final draft was released. And if you want teachers who know math, abolish education colleges and let teachers actually major in a subject like math or English and then take a couple classes on classroom management and forget all the nonsensical stuff that is pushed at them that doesn’t make them a content expert. A teacher who understands the content and is passionate about teaching is going to do a great job.

    1. I completely agree with Oak Norton.

      The Math is proving to be problematic all over the nation. I have written quite a bit about it on my blog and this month the magazine that I edit has devoted the whole issue to Common Core.

      We will be homeschooling until the insanity is significantly resolved.

      The most telling thing to me as a parent is that those who are within the money streams tied to the Common Core are those who defend it to the death and mock and heckle those of us who are against it.

      I have researched it about as much as anyone out there, and the only solution I see at this point is to dumpt the whole mess and start over.

      Our Utah children deserve that sort of an effort.

      Jenny Hatch
      Cedar City Mother

  2. Common Core is the indoctrination of our children to follow government authorities, teaching them to conform to higher government authorities. It was part of the stimulus package and the states adopted it for the money they would receive. Mathematics is a joke and the children hate it–those that loved math are frustrated and hate it now. Literature reading of the great American works has been replaced by EPA pamphlets. Date collection of the students and their families is HUGE and a complete invasion of their privacy. Communist countries have common core. The testing is a HUGE money maker for many who have been providing the testing–$15 per student, per test, goes to certain individuals who are LOVING the REVENUE. Our governor Herbert is the STINKER who railroaded it in to Utah without a general vote from the public and his legacy will be remembered for the damage he has caused Utah families because of Common Core. Most families are completely unaware that the federal government took over their child’s education and stole it from the parents and state to decide what is taught to their children. It is a completely ABOMINATION and should be legislated OUT of UTAH FOR GOOD!!! Bonnie Cook

    1. Bonnie Cook, it was actually Gov. Huntsman who signed the papers that put Utah into Common Core. But Gov. Herbert is 100% supportive of our involvement, sadly.

  3. Oak Norton is a hero. He has educated the public and politicians on common core like nobody else. Parents seem to not understand how common core indoctrinates their children. Parents are left with very little influence as their children are at school more hours than home. Europe adopted something like common core and it failed miserably. In order to compete internationally we need to get back to the basics and not all the extra curricular stuff and busy work that has absolutely no educational value. When I taught high school I had three grades for my AP classes, that was it, but they all did their homework and participated. Why? Because I was able to connect it to their lives, what interested them. We brought classic literature alive. If students don’t have a million tests hanging over them, studying for the test, they actually can do much better. From my homeschooling experience I know math can be fun and I have children who do it long after their math time is over because it is fun. We need teachers individuality and creativity in making boring subjects fun because learning is fun. Common core kills creativity, critical thinking, enjoyment in learning. We need to kill common core before it kills us!

  4. I wonder if I am the only teacher who feels thrown under the bus by Brenda Hales. When she starts talking about teachers needing to “start understanding math” does she mean all teachers, most teachers, some teachers? I believe that some teachers do use textbooks as a crutch, but is that: a) the norm, and b) something that adopting the common core will fix?

    Furthermore, I don’t know what she is talking about with her comments about calculus. It isn’t in the common core. In fact I fear that the common (Utah?) core is significantly harming calculus in our schools. I teach AP Calculus and the impact of the common core on my AP students is a major concern to me. I fear that this whole process of adopting and implementing the common core may be spell the end of AP Calculus at my school.

    Lastly, I just finished listening to the audio of the meeting referred to in the article. There was talk of a survey given to teachers about the implementation of the core. I am pretty sure that I took that survey. The questions were leading and the survey was not meant to give teachers an honest opportunity to express their opinions of the common core. I answered truthfully and most of my answers could be interpreted as supporting evidence for the successful implementation of the core. I made it clear on the comments section that I oppose the common core and would like it to go away. I doubt they took any of my many anti common core comments seriously. I wonder if they were even recorded.

  5. I taught first grade for ten years. Last year was my first year (and last) with Common Core. It was the most negative experience I had in all the years that I taught! Math was always the most fun part of the day for my students…until last year! We ALL went from loving math to HATING math! By the end of the year my students were beyond frustrated with Common Core math! Parents were wringing their hands over the homework because it was so foreign to them. I taught a new concept almost every day! There was little time for mastery built into the program. If you burn a 6 year old out in first grade, what are the chances that they will be successful years later?

    We are being terribly short sighted if we think that Math is the only problem associated with Common Core. This is so much bigger than a poor curriculum. It is THEE most intrusive sort of government interference in our lives. It has the power to destroy our children, to manipulate their minds, and to change how they look at life in general. Our time honored standards and values are being changed in the classroom by teachers who feel powerless to fight. Common Core is accepted by the majority of parents who are oblivious to the evil that lurks behind the door that leads into every classroom where curriculum is being taught, adopted by school districts who insist it be taught as written, without deviation! I am heartsick at what I see happening in our schools today! All is NOT well in Zion!

  6. Oak, you are relentless – and thank you for being so. Keep up the good work. Exposure and shedding light on the real Common Core agenda (control and conform), along with the carrot being dangled (federal funding) and the secrecy (data mining) surrounding the tests, should give every parent and teacher reason to be concerned over this national takeover of our education system.

    Our “pretend conservative” Governor is one of the major reasons why this program is allowed to continue going forward. Unfortunately, his mind is made up and he will defend his re-branding of Common Core (Utah Core) to the bitter end of his term.

  7. I am teaching so many strategies that the math concepts are lost. A new strategy each day for addition and subtraction but the children do not know math facts. They passed end of level tests because they are allowed to use classroom manipulatives. But the can’t add without them. I am told they won’t be accountable for those facts till third grade. This is a full two years later than before common core.

    ELA standards for eRly childhood don’t address the real development of early readers. They are being asked to read text with purpose when most are still learning to decode. Write paragraphs, when most are still figuring out how to spell basic words. Reading requirements are way over their heads.

  8. I agree with each of the above comments. I am very frustrated that all my schools’ administrators, and apparently, teachers are all in favor of Common Core. I find it so disheartening that very few parents in our district are voicing any concern over this serious issue. Are people so uneducated about the principles of freedom that we are okay with this kind of centralized power in the federal government reaching into our families and schools? I can’t get my school’s administrators or teachers to talk about anything but how wonderful the curriculum is. They simply don’t see this as anything all that radical or harmful to our freedom. REALLY!? Is Common Core an improvement to our former education standards? I don’t see how the case can be made that it is so! Especially the math standards. Perhaps in some areas of the language arts standards, it is better, but even then it is in NO WAY worth handing over that kind of power to people sitting behind desks in Washington D.C. It is very possible for Utah to have it’s own standards, but I shrink from using that word. Standards? Since when are we Americans so keen on sameness? I am completely disgusted by the blind acceptance by so many of Common Core. Alas, it is a symptom of a truly fatal illness. As a people we have become so accustomed to asking the Federal Government for about everything that we are indifferent to intrusion by such. Our farmers and ranchers accept for and ask for CRP money. Our local governments write grants to construct bike paths, bathrooms, parks, and endless lists of other things. Our families no longer pay for their kids’ lunches, but happily sign up for “free or reduced” lunches, which are now dictating to all who eat these federally-funded lunches what and how much to eat regardless of each individual’s circumstances. We happily sign up for WIC, show up at the Dept. of Health for “free” immunizations, sign our kids up for “free” preschool, apply for “disability”, “free” health care, social security, Horizons cards, and more. Obama phones, mortgage payment deferrals, student loan defaults, other loan defaults…….I could go on and on. Until, as a people, we value God, and freedom more than our selfish desires, I fear we are in for a rough go. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament who asked the prophet, Samuel for a king despite the warnings he gave them of the labors they would be under with such a king, they STILL wanted a king. We’ve been asking for a king for years, and now we’re getting what we’ve asked for.
    I, for one, still believe in LIMITED government in the form of the Constitution that was inspired by The Almighty. I teach it to my children. I do hope that one day we can return to that kind of love of freedom as a state and nation. Let freedom RING!

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