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