REVEALED: Head of Herbert’s Common Core Review Committee Has Huge Conflict of Interest

UPDATE: Kendell’s letter has now been sent to the Board, and includes the names of dozens of businesspeople and local school board members. See the letter here.

Two weeks ago, Governor Herbert called for a “review of our existing [education] standards to make sure they truly prepare our students for college and careers.” As part of that, Herbert organized a committee tasked with the review, and appointed as its chair one Dr. Rich Kendell, “a former university president, school district superintendent, and education advisor to former Governor Mike Leavitt.”

“He has a unique perspective,” Herbert added, “that will guide a comprehensive examination of the standards.”

Evidently that “unique perspective” includes an existing bias and behind-the-scenes advocacy that violates any semblance of independence or impartiality in the review Kendell has been charged with leading. The Governor also said, “I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of this review,” but perhaps Kendell already has.

Libertas Institute obtained an email written on July 30, 2014, by Dr. Kendell, addressed to Patti Harrington, Associate Executive Director of the Utah School Board Association (USBA) and Executive Director of the Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA). It includes a drafted letter (view the PDF here) and this text:

Patti, Attached is the final letter. Please collect e-mail endorsements, letters from USBA, and letters/motions from USSA. Once you have everything I will work out a way to have them delivered to the right person. thanks. we are making headway. Rich kendell

The “final letter” notes at the bottom that it “will be signed by 30-50 business leaders and chairs of local school boards,” and is addressed to “Members of the Utah State Board of Education.” Kendell’s intent is to deliver the letter prior to the Board’s meeting next week, during which it will decide whether or not to renew the “ESEA I Flexibility Waiver”—an exemption from some of the required standards under “No Child Left Behind” that effectively obligates the state to incorporate Common Core.

The letter contains several reasons why Kendell and others believe the Board should seek a continuation of the waiver, and thus remain bound by the associated obligations and mandates of the federal government.

This, of course, is a significant conflict of interest for an individual tasked with a “comprehensive examination” of Common Core. But Kendell is also an adviser to Prosperity 2020, a group that has publicly and actively advocated for the Common Core standards, and through that outlet has himself championed these standards.

Kendell also has connections to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—the primary financier of the Common Core standards—having previously obtained and used a $3.6 million grant from them.

What does all of this mean? It can mean only one thing, really: we expect little in the way of fairness and impartiality from Kendell, and by implication, the committee he has been tasked with overseeing.

If the Governor was sincerely interested in an impartial review, his committee would be comprised not merely of insiders and establishment educrats who clearly promote (publicly and behind the scenes) a specific outcome, but also of individuals who have differing opinions, no connections to the Governor, and those whose track records suggest a reasonable amount of impartiality in the investigation and subsequent outcome.