Utahns Don’t Really Know Much About Common Core

Most Utahns clearly don’t understand where the public school student-testing program Common Core comes from, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

And when GOP Gov. Gary Herbert says he needs to spend time educating citizens on Common Core – before state lawmakers act to modify or junk it – he wasn’t kidding.

There’s a lot of educating to do, found a new survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.

Overall, the new survey shows 41 percent of Utah adults somewhat or strong oppose Common Core standards; 29 percent strongly or somewhat support Common Core, while 20% are neutral.The new survey finds that 29 percent of Utahns believe the Common Core (CC) standards were forced upon the state by the federal government.

Another 19 percent believe state education officials voluntarily adopted CC, which was a program “put forward” by the federal government.

Actually, both of those responses are factually wrong.



Common Core, the math and English standards for students in grades K-12, were in fact developed by the National Governors Association, with help from education experts.

But, found Jones, only 21 percent of Utahns knew that in the new poll conducted last week.

The poll was of 408 Utah residents conducted Aug. 19-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

So, the survey shows most Utahns don’t know where Common Core came from, nor who developed it.

The question is of interest because the Utah State Board of Education – 15 elected citizens chosen in non-partisan races from across the state – has adopted Common Core.

But conservatives in the state are battling against CC, and one of their main arguments is that, indeed, Common Core will lead to parents, teachers and school administrators losing control of our public education system.

And currently a number of GOP lawmakers are grumbling about CC, and are hinting that they may want to modify the standards and/or just junk them all together.

Herbert is in a political sticky wicket; he originally supported Common Core – as a member of the NGA – and next summer he takes over the chairmanship of the bipartisan group of the nation’s 50 governors.

Faced with growing CC concerns, just weeks ago Herbert called for a “time out.”

He asked Attorney General Sean Reyes – a Tea Party darling — to study the legal implications of CC and several newly-passed state laws which say the federal government can’t get control of Utah’s public schools – even if federal officials wanted to.

Herbert has also appointed a commission to find out exactly what CC is and how it is being implemented.

Meanwhile, the State Board has voted to, once again, seek a waiver of former GOP President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind – which IS a federal program aimed at increasing educational standards across the nation.

While NCLB and Common Core are NOT directly connected, a number of conservatives wanted the State Board to not seek the NCLB waiver – and then the Legislature would appropriate around $26 million in additional state funding for schools; Title I schools would be kept whole; and the campaign against Common Core could intensify.

If all this sounds complicated, it is.

And that’s one reason – perhaps the primary one – Utahns seem to be confused about Common Core and who is behind it.

In any case, it is clear why Republican legislators (and Herbert himself, for he seeks re-election in 2016) should be concerned about the public’s CC misinformation.

Jones found that 48 percent of Republicans said they believe the federal government is in some way behind Common Core – either forcing Utah to adopt it, or “putting forward” CC for the states’ consideration.

Most of the GOP legislators are in safe districts, and don’t really need independent voters.

But for those House and Senate GOP incumbents who need the independents, Jones’ findings are critical: 54 percent of independent voters think the feds are somehow behind Common Core.

Only about a fifth of Utahns correctly understand that Common Core standards are a product of the National Governors Association, and have been adopted by the State Board of Education – not the Legislature.


Now a whole new political element comes into Utah’s education governance issue.

Last week The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has applied to be the new state school superintendent.

Lockhart is retiring this year, and it was generally assumed she planned on challenging Herbert in the 2016 governor’s race.

The State Board picks the school superintendent – the top staff position in Utah public education.

No longer does the superintendent have to be, or have been, a certified public education official and/or administrator. He or she doesn’t have to have a PhD in education, either.

Lockhart is a college-graduated nurse and has sat on the boards of several hospitals, but she has never been a teacher, school principle or school district administrator.

Technically, Herbert has no say in the picking of the superintendent. But no doubt he would like for Lockhart to be “off the table” when the 2016 election comes around.

In the same manner, technically the GOP-controlled Legislature has no say in whom the superintendent is. However, lawmakers do each year appropriate billions of dollars for the state’s public school.

And, again, Lockhart, who is well liked in the Legislature and is retiring at the end of this year (if not earlier), no doubt has political support there.

A number of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, don’t like the way the 15 State School Board members are elected now.

And there has been talk of having the Legislature hire and fire the school superintendent.

That cannot happen before the current State Board picks the new superintendent, which should be some time in November or December.

Lawmakers don’t meet in general session until the end of January.

In any case, the new poll shows that Utahns greatly favor local school districts, teachers and parents to be in control of the education standards, testing and curriculum.

Among Utah Republicans, Jones found that 69 percent want teachers, parents or local districts (57 percent) or want locally-elected school boards (12 percent) in charge of schools.

Only 19 percent of Republicans want the elected State Board of Education in charge of student assessing, tests and achievement standards. Yet that is where most of the responsibility now lies.

Only 43 percent of Democrats want locals to have the major control; 30 want the State Board to make those decisions.

Independent voters are even more local advocates: 76 percent want teachers, parents, local districts and locally-elected school boards making those decisions.

Only 12 percent of independents want the elected State Board of Education making those decisions – even though that is where the responsibility resides.

It appears, through all of the Jones questions, that the 15-member State Board of Education is hanging out there politically – with little understanding of what members do, and little support for what they do.

That could mean problems for education advocates who like the way the State Board is now elected: An admittedly odd amalgamation where the governor appoints a State Board candidate screening committee, which passes a few names per district up to the governor from among all those who file for a seat.

The governor then picks two names to go on the final general election ballot.

Some lawmakers want to return to the old system of non-partisan, direct election of candidates, with a primary putting forward the top two vote-getters to the general elections.

While other legislators want to make the State Board partisan, with candidates running through the political party nominating system.

That change would clearly mean a majority of Republicans on the State Board, where today it may be assumed, or guessed, the partisan beliefs of different board candidates.

Finally, it’s often the case that when we ask folks who should control education in Utah, how students should be tested and what those tests should look like, we don’t ask one group centrally involved in the issue: Students.

Dan Jones, as well as other pollsters, as a practice doesn’t ask minors questions in their surveys.

Issues like parental consent and such.

But Jones does ask legally adult respondents their ages, and groups them into categories.

One such category is those 18-24, or in the case of this poll those who have most recently left high school.

Jones found that, as a group, those who have most recently had to deal with Utah’s public education system have some strong opinions.

For example: 70 percent of 18-24 year olds say parents, teachers and local administrators should be the ones to decide how student achievements should be determined.

By far that is the largest age group with that opinion.

Only 5 percent of the young adults say the State School Board should do it; only 9 percent say their OWN locally elected school district board should do it.

Clearly, they don’t trust the education establishment very much.

Editor’s Note: Zions Bank is a sponsor of UtahPolicy and is aiding in the general coverage of the newsletter and the new polls.