Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service Executive Director Eric Kirby moderated the meeting that was split into two sections. During the first, the panel was asked specific predetermined questions while the second portion opened the meeting up to the public to ask questions of their own.
The panel included 10 individuals actively involved with the education system including Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney, Iron County School Board member Harold Haynie, Cedar High School Principal John Dodds, John Meisner with the school district, Cedar Middle School Vice Principal Trent Nielsen, Fiddlers Elementary Reading and Literacy Specialist Janet Stubbs, Cedar High School English Teacher Tasha Seegmiller, Director of Learning for the Utah State Board of Education Sydnee Dixon, and Tami Pyfer and Dave Thomas with the Utah State Board of Education.
A reoccurring subject in the meeting was that core standards are nothing new to the state of Utah. Pyfer said the state has had formal standards since 1984 and those standards are updated and revised every four to seven years. She said that the most recent revision was in math and language arts in 2010, when the state adopted the Common Core State Standard. She added that when those standards were adopted they became Utah Core Standards and that they are currently looking to revise social studies standards.
Pyfer reiterated that the standards are revised on a local level and that they are not national standards as many believe them to be.
Dixon clarified that the standards are things students should know and be able to do at a certain point in their education and they are not curriculum.
Another issue addressed was the No Child Left Behind program, which the panel said was implemented by the state voluntarily in order to receive Title One funds. Dixon said ethnicity is underrepresented in schools and that they are attempting to close gaps.
“Intervention takes money,” she said.
She said the money goes directly to schools to help teachers become highly qualified, that it supports lower classes sizes, Indian education and also students learning English as a second language.
Kirby asked the panel who was involved in the development and review of the new Common Core State Standards, to which Thomas said it began in 2008 before Obama took office. He said there was a study asking states how they could remain competitive in a world marketplace. It was determined that states needed to upgrade educational standards and the Common Core initiative was the result. He said in the process states were encourage to join the initiative individually to participate in the process.
Dixon added that the writers of Common Core sent out standards to the states who would review them and provide feedback. She said all states gave input and the standards are based off much research.
It was explained that the creation of the standards have always been an open process and that opposition to them has begun in the last few years. Thomas said many experts have been involved in the review of the standards and that there have been two 30-day periods designated for public comment.
“The vast majority of scholars who have looked at Common Core do not find infirmities that they’ve tried to find,” he said.
He also emphasized the standards are implemented on a local level rather than a national level.
“The State Board of Education feels free to amend the standards as they see fit,” he said.
One community member in attendance expressed concern that Common Core is an unproven curriculum and children are subjected to experiments.
Dulaney said she is comforted in the fact that the core standards have been carefully researched.
“(They) have been vetted and vetted again,” she said.
She said the standards, as written, will help students be college ready and that she has read them herself.
“I can with all honesty of heart tell you that I believe that those standards will help to prepare our students,” she said.
Parents expressed dismay over the lack of resources available for the new curriculum, saying that they are unable to understand themselves, let alone help with homework, without the availability of related text.
To this concern, Dulaney encourages parents to visit with teachers and keep an open line of communication, to explain what’s happening at home so that teachers, parents and students can gain a better understanding.
Dulaney said the greatest difference between the 1984 standards and the newly implemented Common Core State Standards is that teachers are allowed to encourage students to think and analyze rather than just repeat information and memorize.
She challenged parents to visit classrooms and to watch the implementation of the standards.
“(I) guarantee there is a rich content that students are engaging in,” she said.
Dulaney encourages anyone with questions to contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (435) 586-2804.
Part two of the discussion will take place on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Sterling R. Church Auditorium in the SUU Sharwan Smith Student Center.