Defending the Common Core

Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Larry K. Shumway

Recently, some members of the Utah Senate expressed concerns over Utah joining with 40 other states in creating and implementing a set of common core standards in the areas of language arts and mathematics for our K-12 students.

The members of the Utah State Board of Education and the staff at the Utah State Office of Education welcome the senators’ interest and encourage their inquiry. After honest investigation, we believe they will come to the same conclusion that the Board has come to: Common core standards will help increase the academic rigor of Utah’s public schools and help make students across the nation more academically (and, consequently, economically) competitive with their peers from around the globe.

The first thing you should know about the Common Core is that it is not a federal program. This is the product of individual states like Utah working in cooperation to improve schools. It is not a top-down federal approach and the standards are not politically biased. The driving force behind the core was the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Utah Governor Gary Herbert is a member of the National Governors Association, as are all the nation’s governors. The latter group, CCSSO, includes in its membership State Superintendent Larry K. Shumway and his counterparts from the other states. The participating states are now also working on creating tests to measure learning the common core in English and math. Utah’s Associate State Superintendent Judy Park is leading that effort as chair of the assessment group.

Next you should know the common core is limited to language arts and math. Surely we can agree that reading, writing and arithmetic transcend state boundaries. In a mobile and globally competitive society like the United States, it is vital to our future that these basics of education are kept at a high level across the county. And remember, it is the states themselves that are leading this charge.

Remember, too, these are voluntary standards. By adopting these standards, we are not obliged to continue to use them in perpetuity. In other words, it’s like going to church: You can stop going at any time, but going is helpful.

Finally, we should note that standards are not curriculum. Utah will retain full control over its curriculum. Standards do not dictate what is taught or how a subject is taught, but what the outcomes of learning should be. Those who like or dislike a particular method of teaching, for example, math, have nothing to fear from the common core.  The common core won’t mandate or preclude teaching methods.

Take, for example, this Common Core Reading Standard for third-graders: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. Or take this example for language skills that should be mastered by seventh grade: Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. These standards don’t require teachers to have students read a specific text and do not require teachers to deliver material in a specific way. They simply outline clearly what is expected for students to learn by the end of each grade level.

We invite those of you interested in learning more to visit the common core state standard initiative website, You are, of course, always welcome to contact your Board Member to learn more as well,


Common Core Mission Statement: The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

The Council of Chief State School Officers  is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public. -Council of Chief State School Officers

Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association is the collective voice of the nation’s governors and one of Washington, D.C.’s most respected public policy organizations. Its members are the governors of the 50 states, three territories and two commonwealths. NGA provides governors and their senior staff members with services that range from representing states on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on key federal issues to developing and implementing innovative solutions to public policy challenges through the NGA Center for Best Practices. For more information, visit -National Governors Association

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3 comments to Defending the Common Core

  • Gregory Proffit

    I thank Superintendent Shumway for his salient overview of the Common Core. Around the state administrators and teachers have already started preparing to help our students meet higher and higher academic standards without much anticipation of additional resources.

  • […] of Larry Shumway by year's end as the superintendent of public instruction means that the state will lose a prominent defender of the Common Core State Standards. Critics in the state have argued that the standards represent […]

  • Why aren’t the assessments ctneisosnt in each grade level across the departments? Are you telling me that science is that much more important than math and English? That is the message that is being sent with assessments at 40%. However, the two areas that we constantly read about in the paper with PAWS results, etc, are math and English. Maybe the assessments at 7th grade should all be the same and at a very low percentage. Teachers at this level should be training students how to prepare for and take these exams, not just give them. Then at the eighth grade raise the percentage to 15% (still training the students and helping them to handle this pressure and stress), at the ninth grade 20% and top out at 25%. 40% for exams that have not been tested for validity and reliability is absolutely ridiculous! While we are at it, what courses or interventions are built in for students who don’t pass these courses? The district has raised requirements so that if a ninth grader fails even one semester of math or English they are not on track to graduate isn’t the drop out rate a concern? What courses are available for students who are not planning to go to college or do you just teach to the wealthy and intelligent?