It’s Time to Cease the “Tail Wagging” by the Anti-Common Core Crowd

(Note: In this post, Kim Burningham speaks in his own behalf. The point of view expressed in this blog does not necessarily represent any organization of which he is or has been a part.)


A uniquely American phrase—the tail wagging the dog—can be traced to the late 1800s. In 2015, I note a modern application in Utah.   Some strident fringe groups have been shouting so loud about their fears of the common core that the whole education system has been shaken. This is unfortunate, and it time for such distortion to cease!

For the last few years as a member of the Utah State School Board I have listened to spokespeople of the “far right” describe the common core as an evil conspiracy. I have been amazed by the claims that the common core is alternately a weak curriculum, an imposition of the federal government, and/or a denial of local rights. I have read the core, watched it implemented in the classroom, and been a part of the process where it was adopted. I find those accusations false.

Statewide Committee examines and lauds the new standards

Now, a statewide committee has been asked to examine the standards.   Appointed by Governor Gary Herbert, the Utah Core Standards Committee issued their report on February 2 and presented it to the State Board of Education on February 5. That committee chaired by Richard E. Kendell and Matthew S. Holland concluded:

  • The new Utah Core Standards are an improvement over the state’s previous standards: “more rigorous.”
  • The new standards will “better prepare students for college or work.”
  • The new standards appear “likely to advance the quality of Utah public education.

My observation supports those conclusions. Of course, the standards are always a work in progress and must be continually improved. Much professional development is needed to assure effective implementation, but that work is ongoing, the vital work of the present and future years. I applaud—and so did the committee—this direction in public education.

I do not deny the challenges associated with such a move: teachers must implement new lesson plans and different strategies, parents may find themselves unfamiliar with the approach, texts need updating. But these challenges will not prevent growth; instead when met and conquered, they will increase it. The arguments presented by the “tail wagers” fall.

The Attorney General’s rulings support the legality and practicality of the standards

Attorney General Sean D. Reyes was asked to provide a legal analysis of the new standards. On October 7, 2014, he issued his report. He responded directly to multiple questions, for instance:

  1. Was the State Board of Education’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards “illegal” in any way. “NO.”
  2. By the adoption of Common Core standards, has Utah ceded authority over standards and curriculum? “NO.”
  3. Did we (Utah) acquiesce educational control or state sovereignty by adopting Common core Standards?   “NO.”
  4. Can we change our academic standards, including modifications to the Common Core Standards? “YES.”

The analysis of the Attorney General’s office is clear: the Common Core standards are legal, do not relinquish state control, and can be changed. Quite obviously, the document is imperfect, and changes will be required; the analysis clearly emphasizes our ability to do so.   Again, The arguments presented by the “tail waggers” fall.

It is time for us to stop letting the tail wag the dog! Let us move to the important issues for improving education.

  • How can we help students learn more?
  • How can we improve the quality of classroom teaching?
  • How can we provide adequate resources to help public education succeed?

Competent people throughout the State are trying to address these fundamental questions. I urge my readers to speak up. The dog needs to take command of the tail.

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