"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 2, 2012

SBAC: Adoption process...my letter

Dear State Board Members:

I want to start out by thanking you for your hours of service and for taking the time to read this letter.  You have received many communications about Common Core, and although this letter will touch on that, my overriding concern is with process and not with specifics.  I have to admit that this letter is written as a criticism, but not of any individuals.  Please accept it in the spirit it is written, as working to improve our governing process. 

I have attached two documents: 1.) the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Utah and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and 2.) the Cooperative Agreement between SBAC and the US Dept of Ed.  (If you can’t download the attachments, you can find them here: https://keepeducationlocal.com/~keepeduc/export/documents/sbac_mou.pdf and here: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf.) I hope you have read both of these agreements, and if not, please do so.  As you may know, both a retired appellate judge and the Sutherland Institute have determined these agreements directly lock the State of Utah into Common Core standards and testing arrangements overseen by the Federal Government, above what we already have via ESEA, etc. 

Additionally, in reading the minutes from your meetings from Jan. 2010 – Jun. 2010, I understand that the MOU was never presented to the board for a discussion, a review or a vote, and it was never reviewed, at least publicly, by legal counsel.  In June, 2010, State Board President Roberts indicated to the Board that she had signed the application for membership in SBAC.   There was no indication she believed that application (which was in reality the MOU) to be a legally-binding contract.  From discussions with USOE staff and various board members, I was continually assured there was no Federal involvement and our agreement was just an MOU, nothing legally binding.  However, in addition to requiring US Dept of Ed approval in order to exit the consortium (MOU) and full implementation of the assessments (MOU), the Cooperative Agreement requires the consortium to “Work with the Department [of Ed] to develop a strategy to make student-level data…from the assessment system available on an on-going basis…(p.11)”  There does seem to be quite a bit of Federal involvement in the assessment piece of this equation.   

I would submit that the people of Utah expect those in elective office to have thoroughly vetted any and all contracts and legally-binding agreements prior to those documents being enacted.  We, the people, would have liked to have been party to the discussion among several board members who may have found some of the SBAC agreement to infringe on Utah’s State Sovereignty and the ability of our teachers to teach beyond the tests that are funded by the Federal Government.  Would some of you have been concerned with the data sharing outlined in the Cooperative Agreement between SBAC and the Feds?

I know, as an elected official, the amount of information and paperwork that comes to me at times is overwhelming.  I know we hire good people on our staff, and we trust them to do the job they were hired to do.  I also know that the buck stops with me.   So, anything that I agree to, whether I looked into it or not, I am accountable to the people for. 

By the same token, I know you have hired good people and you trust them.  However, when you agree to sign onto something it must be read and reviewed, if you are to be accountable to the people for that action.  I am asking you to review the process whereby a legally-binding document was signed and executed without the full board’s vetting, review, and vote, and by extension, without the public’s input.  We look to you to attend to the details and make the very best decisions on our behalf.  But, once those decisions are made, it is up to you to be able to explain to us and to be accountable for those actions.  It appears, in the case of the SBAC agreement, this did not occur.  It appears that too much was done under the flag of trust, without the proper level of verification.  People are human and fallible.  This is why we have the different structures in government set up to check and balance each other.  Please look into this process and work to balance the trust with the verification.


Wendy K. Hart

Mother and Utah Citizen

Board Member, Alpine School District