State of Education

Much has been made this past week regarding the state of education in our state. Senator Aaron Osmond’s suggestion that making school attendance voluntary would somehow improve the system was swiftly and appropriately shot down by all sides of the political pie. Though I have written extensively on it, at this point, I think it best to let it die in peace.

Of more interest is the recent Eagle-Forum sponsored and homeschooler-supported war being waged on the non-partisan, non-governmental Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that 45 states have signed on to and which will be implemented this year across all our state’s public schools. After reading the Eagle Forum’s mission statement and their arguments against the Common Core, I identify two honest complaints:

1)     I wasn’t consulted in the development of the CCSS. As the Common Core website states, nobody was. Instead, a select group of experts put the standards together. As stated, this was a non-partisan undertaking by people only tangentially related to government, with no relation at all to the federal government. The only real connection to government was that the task force was put together by the conservative-leaning and Republican-led National Governors Association, of which our governor is on the executive board. Thus far, no calls for Governor Herbert to resign for authorizing this “unconstitutional” product, nor calls to disband the Governor’s Association, because, in the end, this argument falls flat.

2)     President Obama supports it, so I don’t. This is, at least, ideologically coherent. Clearly, if the opposition party supports something, we ought not to. Thus far, this Republican practice has given us the Affordable Care Act, Sequestration, two debt-ceiling crises, resulting in a lower credit score for our Bonds, higher interest rates for student loans, and a backlog of judicial appointments resulting in the effective shutdown of the Judicial Branch of government. It’s been successful in protecting criminals’ rights to buy firearms without a background check and it threatens to undermine the first meaningful immigration reform package in a decade. This philosophy has been so successful in these other endeavors; why not try it with education?

But I think the truly honest complaint comes in their reasoning behind why the federal government supports CCSS. By implementing core standards across the country, for the first time, we can compare academic apples to apples. Indeed, the Department of Education has proposed a program called Race to the Top, which threatens to rain money on schools for meeting clear and quantifiable goals, made possible by the use of a common standard. Students (and schools) can now be graded not just against their peers in their districts, or even their states, but across the country. And therein lies the true fear of the Eagle Forum:

3)     Our kids can’t compete. For years, Utah has prided itself on our “educational value,” saying that yes, we do spend the least per pupil on education, but our kids turn out great. But not until now has someone put together a program to actually measure that assertion—and not just put together the program, but also put money behind it—4 billion dollars—to see just how motivated schools and districts can be to teach their children to excel in these educational goals. In fact, with just a little digging on the various websites fighting “Common Core”, it’s easy to see that the real fight is against this “Race to the Top” program. Why turn down free money to your schools? It can only be because these conservatives know that their schools can’t win. They know their “skeleton crew” policies don’t stand a chance when compared against those tax-raising liberal states that actually fund their education platforms.  And so, rather than face the shame of losing money in competition, they argue that the competition shouldn’t even exist. That’s rich, coming from people for whom economic competition is a vanguard principle.

And that’s what it all breaks down to, when you blow away the straw men and the bogus, unsupported assertions. These parents know their children aren’t being educated well and they are afraid of publicly losing. With that loss comes loss of esteem and the stigma of losing: “You went to Skyline? I’m so sorry for you!” With that loss comes the loss of jobs and tax revenue as large corporations move elsewhere, not just for a more educated workforce, but better schools for their workforce’s children. And maybe at that point our legislative leaders will gain some humility, a word which, ironically, means “teachable.”