New Lawsuit Holds the School Board Accountable

The following op-ed, written by Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Daily Herald.

Earlier this month, Libertas Institute announced a new lawsuit against Common Core here in Utah. There are six plaintiffs: two teachers, two parents of school aged children, and two school board members. None of them were consulted prior to adopting the Common Core standards in our state.

That may sound a bit silly — who are they to think they should have been consulted? As it turns out, state law requires it; § 53A-1-402.6 of the Utah code requires the Utah State Board of Education to establish and implement standards “in consultation with local school boards, school superintendents, teachers, employers, and parents.” The point of this law is to ensure local control and buy-in of whatever standards the Board adopts.

That didn’t happen with Common Core — and it should have. Here’s what actually happened.

In June 2010, the Board voted to “adopt the Common Core… as a framework on first reading [and] between now and the next meeting the Board Members study the standards…” Put differently, the Board gave initial approval of the new (and untested) standards, pending further approval, without having even studied them first.

During the next two months, as indicated in the motion, the Board (in theory; we can only assume) studied the standards and then convened in August 2010 to make their final vote. That period of time was not used to consult with the groups required by law or conduct any outreach to inform Utahns about the new standards to which they would soon be committed. Of course, the Board couldn’t even do that because they didn’t know for themselves what Common Core’s impact would be.

That point bears emphasis: the Board of Education, in adopting Common Core, was effectively flying blind. This is supported by many facts, but I’ll discuss two for now.

First, the Board did not conduct a legal review prior to its vote. Imagine running a large company with a budget of several billion dollars (which is the amount of cash circulating through the K-12 education system in Utah). Then imagine you’re asked to consider substantively changing the process by which your entire company operates. It’s highly likely that you would seek input from legal counsel before proceeding to assess the implications of such a large shift in policy.

The Utah State Board of Education did not solicit nor conduct a legal review prior to committing millions of Utahns to a new set of standards that had not been implemented nor even tested anywhere else. Instead, they chose to believe talking points and throw caution to the wind.

Second, the Board has itself admitted that the standards are not based on any research to support the claims that they are rigorous, optimal, or overall better than what was previously in place. In a document titled “Complete Resource Guide on Utah’s Core Standards,” the Board responds to the concern that the standards were not research-based by saying this:

“The effect of implementing standards cannot be researched before they have been implemented. They must be implemented first before we can conduct research on their effectiveness.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this quote mimics the flawed logic used by then-Speaker Pelosi when she said, in defense of passing Obamacare, that Congress needed to pass it so we could find out what was actually in it.

Children attending government schools throughout the state have effectively been turned into guinea pigs, subjected to pedagogical experimentation without their knowledge or consent. (It’s logical to assume that most parents would expect the standards being enforced upon their children and their teachers to have some research and evidence of success backing them up.)

Nearly everybody in Utah will say that they support local control of education. Unfortunately, that term has been rendered impotent of any significant meaning. It’s a buzzword, and nothing more — the very people dismantling local control consider themselves advocates of it. But there is still meaning behind the words, and concerned parents, teachers, and administrators should pause to consider what it means and requires.

Here’s my take: local control of education means that the very people affected by education standards and policies should be heavily involved in the process by which they are developed and implemented. This input cannot be superficial or speedy—it needs to be deliberative, cautious, sincere, and substantive.

Again, this did not happen with the establishment and implementation of Common Core. The Utah State Board of Education chased after the federal Race to the Top grant (which it did not obtain) and as a condition of that process further obligated itself, and by extension all Utahns, to the new, untested standards known as Common Core.

It’s one thing to get upset because parents and teachers didn’t have an opportunity to voice concerns or try and influence the outcome. It’s another to actually violate the law in doing so, which the Board did. Thus, we feel it important to hold elected officials accountable, and for that reason have asked a judge to review the facts.