“Sit in my Seat”

Jennifer Johnson, Utah State Board of Education Member, District 8

Jennifer Johnson, Utah State Board of Education member, District 8

Fellow Board Member’s Response to
Common Core Questions

One of the great things I’ve learned by sitting in my seat on the State Board of Education is the usefulness of the knowledge and experience of other board members.

Dave Thomas has personal experience with the development of the Common Core Standards of Math and English Language Arts that have been adopted by the Utah State Board of Education.

There are a lot of questions out there that imply things that aren’t true or are implied to be without a response. I invite you to sit in my seat and benefit from his experience.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer A. Johnson is a member of the Utah State Board of Education. She represents District 8. The views expressed here are her own.


Utah State Board of Education Member Dave Thomas represents District 4. Thomas wrote the responses to the questions below. The views expressed in this post are his own.

Dave Thomas, Utah State Board of Education member, District 4

Dave Thomas, Utah State Board of Education member, District 4

Common Core antagonists have asserted that the following are “a list of questions that the board has remained silent on, which you may want to ask out loud”:

Here are my [Dave Thomas’] responses, but as a preliminary matter, the board has not remained silent on these questions (although most of these questions were never asked of the board). It would do well to refer to the state board PowerPoint which more fully addresses all the questions – USBE-Common-Core-Slides

Q: Where is a shred of evidence to support the claim that Common Core improves education?

A: Here you go. Math-Standards; English-Language-Arts-Standards. Fordham Institute, The State of State Standards and the Common Core in 2010 (June 20, 2010).

Q: Where are any studies showing that the reduction of literary study improves college readiness?

A: Common Core ELA does not reduce the literature component of secondary English courses. Rather it adds emphasis on informational texts. The assertion that high school English classes will only teach 30 percent literature and 70 percent informational texts is incorrect. The 70/30 split is spread throughout the entire curriculum, including math, science, and social studies.

The focus on informational texts is essential for college readiness and is something that is lacking in our current educational system. There are many studies setting forth the necessity of informational text education, such as Reading Between the Lines, ACT , Inc. (2006); The Case for Informational Text, Educational Leadership, Vol. 61, No. 6 (March 2004), to name just two of the many studies.

Q: Where is some evidence that slowing the age at which students learn math algorithms improves college readiness?

A: Common Core math does not slow the age at which students learn math algorithms. Rather, it takes an integrated approach to mathematics, which is how the top performing countries teach math. A good example is Singapore Math. As a result, Algebra I is no longer a stand alone subject taught in eight  or ninth grade (I might add that some of the top performing Asian countries do not teach any Algebra until the ninth grade). Instead, the standards normally identified with Algebra I are starting to be taught in fifth grade.

Hence, the standards comprising the former Algebra I course (42 out of the 45 standards) are now found in grades 5-10. The same is true of Geometry and Algebra II – the standards normally associated with those courses are now beginning to be taught in earlier grades. By integrating these standards, experts have found that students are better able to retain the information and apply it. This is done through integrating the methods of math instruction as well – consequently, traditional/algorithmic theory and constructivist theory are both used, as the National Math Panel suggests. A good article which discusses this is by Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, Phoenix Rising, American Educator (Fall 2011). Dr. Wu is a Cal Berkley Professor of Mathematics who helped authored the California Math Standards.

Q: Where is any amendment process for Common Core math and English standards, under the copyrighted Common Core?

A: That is actually the wrong question. The correct question is can Utah amend its Core standards for math and ELA? Yes. The public license for Common Core allows the use of any or all of the standards. We can pick and choose. Hence, the State Board can decide when and where to amend its Utah Core by simply adding or deleting Common Core standards or any other standards that the State Board believes is superior to the existing standards.

It’s interesting that those opposed to Common Core have changed this question from the correct question to the wrong question. The change in tactics stems from the fact that Utah is free to change its own standards and those opposed to the Common Core have finally had to admit they got it wrong. As for the Common Core State Standards, we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change those standards because such was a collaborative process of the states. We can certainly propose changes, but those proposed changes must go through a process, just as changing Utah’s standards requires a process.

Q: How can one opt out of the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) tracking and the Common Core tests?

A: NCLB requires aggregated student data that can only be obtained through the Utah Longitudinal Data System. This is a case of federal intrusion that is not subject to opting out, nor is it a product of the Common Core. Unfortunately, those opposed to the Common Core have misdirected their efforts to attack the Utah Longitudinal Data System instead of directing their efforts on the real danger – The  National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP and its proposed use of the National Education Data Model.

As for Common Core testing, Utah is not part of any of the Common Core testing consortiums. Instead, Utah is developing its own Computer Adaptive Test, but not just for math and ELA, but for the other Utah Core Standards as well, including science and social studies. This Computer Adaptive Testing is part of the learning and teaching process – where teachers learn of student’s strengths and weaknesses in real time so that they can adapt their teaching accordingly. That was the purpose of changing the way we assess student achievement. It was not part of the Common Core. We have been trending toward CAT since 2008.

Q: Where is the legal — constitutional — authority for people outside our state to set our local standards and to create and monitor our tests?

A: No one from outside our state is setting standards, creating tests or monitoring them as part of Common Core. The state board sets the standards, is creating the tests, and will be monitoring them. There is, however, a test that is controlled by the federal government with federal standards and monitoring, it’s called NAEP, which apparently many who are opposed to the Common Core support (for reasons unknown).

Q: Why does Utah stand by while Obama announces that he will redesign schools and tax all Americans to pay for it, without Utah putting up a fight?

A: Simply because those opposed to the Common Core are late to the party of battling federal intrusion, doesn’t mean those of us who have been at the party haven’t been fighting federal intrusion into public education for many years. Long before Common Core, Utah was fighting with the feds over public education. The state board continues to push back on the federal government, whether its Obama or Bush administrations.

I was at the meeting when the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) rolled out the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- ESEA Blue Print and as a representative of the state board I took the assistant secretary to task over it. I was also there when The National Association of State Boards of Education NASBE told the USDE to stay out of the Common Core Initiative – I know this because I was the one delivering the message.

Q: Why is there a spiral of silence culture now, that demands everyone pretend to agree; where is freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the common agenda, now that teachers and principals don’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs?

A: Where is the evidence of a culture of silence? Merely making the assertion does not make it true.

Q: How on earth can anyone call Common Core “state-led” when unelected boards that operate behind closed doors, that are not accountable to the public, developed and copyrighted the standards, bypassing voters and the vast majority of teachers and legislators?

A: The Common Core Initiative was the brainchild of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The NGA is the association of the 50 democratically elected state governors. The CCSSO is the association of the 50 state school chiefs, some of whom are elected, some are answerable to the state board and others are answerable to the governor. I am unsure how that’s not “state led.”

These organizations were then joined by 48 state school boards, some elected (like Utah) and some appointed. The process for drafting the standards was an open process – there were 52 members on the Math Work Team and 50 members on the ELA Work Team, another 22 members were on the Math Feedback Group and 12 members on the ELA Feedback Group, there were two 30 day public comment periods (with a summary of the comments posted on the Common Core website – 10,000 public comments were made), the standards were then peer reviewed by a committee of 28.

After all of that public process, the standards came to the Utah State Board, who opened a 30 day comment period in July 2010. The Utah Legislature was informed at each stage of the process. Elected state school board members vetted the standards and voted unanimously to adopt them. We live in a compound constitutional republic, not a democracy. In such a republic, we elect leaders who make decisions on our behalf. In this country we do not pass all decisions by referendum. As part of the public process, legislators and teachers alike were free to comment and did comment. Simply because you were late to the party and failed to make public comment does not mean there was no process.

Q: Where is the line-item cost analysis of taxpayers’ money being spent on Common Core technologies, teacher training and texts?

A: The state board reviews and adopts standards in every subject matter on a 5-7 year review cycle. The Math and ELA standards were adopted like any other standards. As such, there was no additional monies spent on them. The state board has instituted Core Academies during the summers of a five-year phase-in plan. We did this with $1 million in annual funding where previously we had $78 million in annual funding for professional development.

Hence, we did it for less money. Utah has never had textbooks that were aligned to the Utah Core Standards because the textbook market is dominated by Texas and California. Consequently, there was no more impact to textbooks than there normally is. As for computer technology, that is not the Common Core, it is, however, Computer Adaptive Testing, which we would have done regardless of the Common Core.

Q: When will state leadership address Common Core’s specific damages with the people who elected these leaders to serve us, rather than bowing to every federal whim?

A: This makes the untrue assumption that the Common Core are federal standards mandated by the federal government. They are not. The federal government played no role in the creation of the standards. Again, what the opponents of Common Core should be concerned about are the only true federal education standards and tests, NAEP.

Q: Will the board and governor ever stand up to the Department of Education’s tsunami of assaults on liberties?

A: See my prior response to federal intrusion. Simply because you are late to the party doesn’t mean no one else has been doing anything.

Q: Will the board continue to fight against local teachers and citizens who rightfully demand local liberty and who rightfully ask for proven, non-experimental, amendable standards — following the example set by the national and world-leading education system in Massachusetts, prior to Common Core?

A: This argument still baffles me. The 2001 Massachusetts standards that Dr. Stotsky “authored” were a mirror image of the federal NAEP standards. According to Dr. Stotsky’s boss, Dr. Driscoll, the Commissioner of Education for Mass, the 2001 and 2004 Massachusetts standards were patterned after the federal NAEP standards. This is the reason why Massachusetts always scored the highest on the federal NAEP battery of tests, their core standards were completely aligned. Were the NAEP standards world class? According to ACT and SAT, they were not.

ACT and SAT did not align to NAEP standards because they disagreed with them. This is the reason why there is no correlation between the high performers on NAEP and those on the ACT/SAT tests. When the Common Core Initiative was announced, NAEP was the first to criticize it because the initiative meant that the states would be taking back educational standards from the federal government.

ACT and SAT realigned to the Common Core, but NAEP refused to do so until recently. Dr. Stotsky still sits on NAEP’s steering committee for its Reading Framework. So it amazes me that those opposed to the Common Core find themselves on the side of the federal NAEP standards fighting against the Common Core Initiative which wrested control of educational standards away from the feds and returned it to the states. Apparently, they would have Dr. Stotsky impose the federal NAEP standards on Utah. Amazing!


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2 comments to “Sit in my Seat”

  • Dear Mr. Dave Thomas,

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer previously unanswered questions about the Common Core agenda.

    Unfortunately, the questions were incompletely and not directly answered.

    I hope to someday meet in person, to have an open discussion using source documents; until that meeting is offered, I will try writing point by point.

    No evidence to support the experiment

    You answered question #1 by giving Fordham’s opinion of Common Core. That’s not empirical data nor is it evidence of field testing. No research has ever been done to prove that Common Core will help our students. It’s theoretical and experimental.

    We need to see a long-term pilot study of students trying out Common Core to know that it works better. There is no research to support Common Core’s claims –because it is an experiment.

    Reduction of literature

    You answered question #2 by saying that ELA does not reduce literature. This is untrue. It is common knowledge that informational text is to be the main type of reading for students in Common Core English classes. Common Core testing companies, curriculum writing companies, and teachers all know it. You can see it in the standards themselves. It is unrealistic to think that math and science teachers will be teaching literature; the split is going to harm the amount of literature kids read in English classes. Saying otherwise does not reconcile with the textbooks coming out right now, that are Common Core aligned.

    Math Problems

    If integrated math was universally seen as superior, and was beyond debate, then why is there so much arguing going on about whether its viable as a math system among top educators? Why didn’t the Utahns get to debate whether we’d use integrated math, of which not everyone shares your high opinion?

    It is common knowledge that Algebra II is taught at the eighth grade level in top performing Asian countries. James Milgram who was the mathematician who rejected Common Core when he served on its validation committee, said:

    “I can tell you that my main objection to Core Standards, and the reason I didn’t sign off on them was that they did not match up to international expectations. They were at least 2 years behind the practices in the high achieving countries by 7th grade, and, as a number of people have observed, only require partial understanding of what would be the content of a normal, solid, course in Algebra I or Geometry. Moreover, they cover very little of the content of Algebra II, and none of any higher level course… They will not help our children match up to the students in the top foreign countries when it comes to being hired to top level jobs.“

    You mention Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu. But for every Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu who approves of this type of math, there’s a Yong Zhao and a Ze’ev Wurman and a James Milgram, arguing just the opposite.

    The point: The majority of Utahns never got to argue out this vitally important transformation of what we are to teach our kids.


    On the issue of amendability, you slid right past tdiscussion of the 15% cap that the federal government placed on the standards after they were copyrighted by the CCSSO/NGA. Utah can only amend these standards by 15% and that 15% will not be on the common core nationally-aligned tests. We only amended cursive by asking for permission from the CCSSO/NGA. It says so, right on the USOE website. “By Permission.” Where’s the autonomy in that?

    Data Collection

    On the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) tracking and the Common Core tests’ data collection issue, you correctly say that the federal government is requiring aggregated student data to be given. However, you do not admit that Utah is collecting increasing amounts of student information, both academic and nonacademic, using schools as data collectors for the SLDS, and that AIR will collect even more when it administers the Common Core aligned tests.

    AIR is partnered with SBAC, which you failed to mention. And SBAC is under obligation to share its collected student data with the federal government. What evidence is there that AIR and SBAC don’t share collected data? The National Education Data Model and the Common Educational Data Standards and the Data Quality Campaign– all federal groups– ask for personally identifiable information down to voting status and bus stop times.

    You are correct that this is not part of the standards, but it is part of the overall Common Core agenda and it is part of the President’s vision for education, and it confirms what eScholar CEO said at the White House Datapalooza event –that “Common Core is the glue” without which the masses of student data could not be so easily shared.


    You say that “Utah is not part of any of the Common Core testing consortiums,” but the test that we have opted to use (AIR) is partnered with one of the Common Core testing consortiums (SBAC) and it is totally Common Core-aligned. I see no benefit to choosing AIR over SBAC. Do you? In fact, in light of the “behavioral indicators” that HB15 (line 59) mandates that the CAT tests will be collecting, and in light of the fact that AIR is a behavioral testing institution, with a mission to apply behavioral research, I think we are in over our heads as far as attempting to hold any type of student psychological data privacy inviolable –while remaining with AIR.


    It is not true that “No one from outside our state is setting standards, creating tests or monitoring them as part of Common Core.” Private interest groups in D.C. have written the standards we now call “Utah Core,” for math and English. It is unrepresentative to allow our state school board to cede control of standards, testing, or to give access to school-collected data to groups outside Utah.

    Pushback on Federal Overreach

    I would like thank you and anyone on the state school board who has been “fighting federal intrusion into public education,” but I personally haven’t seen any evidence of it. I see the exact opposite happening; whatever comes from D.C., our state school board seems to applaud and obey as if there were no G.E.P.A. law, as if there were no constitutional prohibition for federal “accountability” from states in educational matters.

    It is nice that the NASBE told the USDE to stay out of Common Core; but the USDE clearly laughed at that message. In fact, according to the U.S. Secretary of Education, “in March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments.” Secretary Duncan seems to think it was President Obama’s idea to have Common Core. It never was “state-led” in any way.

    Spiral of Silence

    If you would like to see evidence of a culture of silence, simply ask teachers to fill out an anonymous survey as we have done. Teachers won’t speak out –unless, like me, or Susan Wilcox, or Margaret Wilkin, or David Cox, or Renee Braddy– they are Utah teachers who have retired, semi-retired, or are soon to retire.

    Teachers value their jobs and therefore, fear speaking out.

    Not State-Led

    While you assert that Common Core was state-led and that it “was the brainchild of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers,” according to the U.S. Secretary of Education,Common Core was originally President Obama’s brainchild. He says, “in March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments.”

    Utahns do not elect our governor to represent us on a federal stage; for that, we have representatives and congressmen.


    Do you believe that not having done a state cost analysis of Common Core implementation was wise?

    Do you believe that the total transformation of all Utah schools to a different set of standards, tests, teacher trainings, and textbooks, will not require any additional funding? I don’t. I also cannot believe the claim that “there was no more impact to textbooks than there normally is,” when teachers are telling me that they have put excellent, even newly purchased, textbooks into permanent storage, because all new Common Core aligned materials must be bought. If indeed this is somehow true, that there was no increase to schools because of Common Core, let’s see the line-item proof to be transparent with taxpayers.

    Imposition of Federal Standards

    You implied that those of us who want to return to educational liberty want to “impose the federal NAEP standards on Utah,” but this is false. We want to control education locally.

    Christel Swasey

    Utah Credentialed Teacher

    Heber City

  • One inaccuracy in David Thomas’ editorial: Common Core is not amendable (“Nothing sinister about Common Core,” June 18). Yes, you can add up to 15 percent, and the state board is “adding” cursive handwriting. But nothing added will be tested, so why add it? And you can’t change, substitute or delete anything. The copyright is owned by a private company. Our state can’t change one word in it.

    The math and language arts standards may not be so bad. But what happens when the history and science standards come out? How do you get a middle ground nationally between the socialistic, historical revisionists and the strict constitutionalists? And what about the environment and sex ed.?

    So far the “standards” aren’t a big problem, but it is better to leave the creation of standards to local districts. No, they will not all be perfect, but that way no administration, political party or power group can take control of the educating of our youth. By having Common Core in place they can.

    The biggest problem is that CC is a catalyst that allows whatever administration is in power to control our schools with grants, threats, and other edicts through the Dept. of Ed. They can use it to data mine the children “in order to inform the instruction,” whereupon they can use the information for other uses than education, or to make sure the educating done favors the political party of the President. They can use it to intimidate teachers into teaching what the administration wants taught. And the current administration is proof positive of what I’m saying. CC is VERY dangerous, not just for our schools, but for our country’s future!