Education Standards Are Facing Opposition In Wyoming

Apr 25, 2014

Members of the public attend the State Board of Education meeting in Casper.
Credit Bob Beck

For years parents and educators have been looking at ways to improve elementary education. Recently many states, including Wyoming, adopted common core standards that supporters believe will give students and schools goals to shoot for in Math and Language Arts. 

The state is also in the process of adopting other state standards, including a set of controversial science standards.  But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports there is a growing movement against any standards that are not developed by local school boards. 

BOB BECK: While Wyoming has been locked into a fight over the Next Generation Science Standards a bigger issue may be waiting in the wings.  A growing number of parents want Wyoming to back away from recently adopted common core standards which set guidelines for what every student should know in math and language arts from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Those at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education are following this debate with interest.  Leslie Rush is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the College and she says that Common Core was developed by national experts and brings some important goals to K-12 education. 

LESLIE RUSH:  These are the goals that teachers should be aiming for with students, these are things that students should know and be able to do at the different grade levels. 

BECK:  Rush says the goals are the same nationwide.  

RUSH:  We are holding students to the same sort of level of rigor and the same expectations.  That to me is important.

BECK:  But Republican State Representative Tom Reeder of Casper disagrees. He drafted a bill during the last legislative session that was intended to have a committee of parents and other stakeholders review the standards and make sure they were proper for Wyoming students.  Reeder’s bill died.  But his constituents supported it because they say the state is taking away local control. 

TOM REEDER:  The root of it is that one size fits all and it’s coming from the top down instead of the bottom up.  You know the process on how standards are adopted…what I get is jeez we didn’t even have the opportunity to give input.  

BECK:  At a recent State Board of Education meeting  to discuss pending standards.  A number of parents expressed their concern about relying on federal standards like common core.  Savery resident Cindy McKee says these standards could force curriculum changes in local school districts. 

CINDY MCKEE:  The true control of what happens in the classroom is shifting.  Shifting away from the state…primarily the local levels of where is always used to be, up to the state, and now even nationally. 

BECK:  Green River Educator Cindy Hooley is another strong opponent of the Common Core.  Her argument is that it has forced unfortunate changes in how teachers teach and what students are able to learn.

CINDY HOOLEY:  Yes, we do need something to guide us to give that kind of a check point for a student, but that shouldn’t guide of all our teaching. 

BECK:  Many are quick to say the Hooley is wrong noting that school districts and teachers still set the curriculum.  State board member Pete Gosar says standards simply set the bar.  Fellow board member Scotty Ratliff supports standards.

SCOTTY RATLIFF:  It is not anybody telling you that you have to learn math this way, but by the time you leave a certain grade you need to learn this material.  So it just makes sense to me I think standards is wonderful.

RON MICHELI:  Part of it goes back to the innate distrust of the federal government.

BECK:  That’s State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli.

MICHELI:  And the concern is again is that there will some kind of a movement to have everybody with the same curriculum and the same standards, and of course that’s nuts in Wyoming, nobody’s gonna go for that.  But that’s the concern.

BECK:  Micheli admits that the board needs to work harder to engage the public in discussions about standards, but he’s surprised by the increasingly aggressive backlash.  The other knock about education standards is that teachers are forced to teach to them.

But even supporters say there are legitimate concerns.  For example, U-W College of Education Associate Dean Leslie Rush says teaching to standards is nothing new, but she is worried that Common Core will require too much testing.  She says that is a serious issue. 

RUSH:  And if you add to that the amount of time that teachers are having to spend to do test prep, which to me is not the most rigorous, or interesting, or, creative, or engaging instruction…to me that’s a larger problem. 

BECK:  But outside of that Rush predicts that local districts and teachers will find ways to be creative and bring interesting material to the classroom and that Common Core and other standards will help improve education.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.