Legislature works to improve education

Feb 22, 2013

The Wyoming legislature grabbed headlines early in the session by stripping powers from State Superintendent Cindy Hill.  Now they they’re focused on ways to improve education.   Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more….

BOB BECK: The main bills are two accountability measures that will test how students are doing in the classroom, set goals that individual schools will be asked to meet, and eventually hold administrators and teachers accountable. The effort might sound familiar, because the legislature started working on accountability two years ago. But for whatever reason, lawmakers say the State Department of Education never met necessary deadlines, which led to the action against Superintendent Hill.  As they finally move forward,  State Senator Chris Rothfuss says the first step will be to acquire data so that each school in the state will have a standard to shoot for.

CHRIS ROTHFUSS:  We’re trying to get data from the schools showing what their strengths and weaknesses are in education.  And we’ve got a number of different measures that we are looking for.  We’re looking for student growth, student achievement, student equity measures, and we’re looking for college and career readiness. 

BECK: Rothfuss says they will use existing testing methods, such as the ACT to score high school students.  The goal is to get what they need and take less time testing.  Students will also need to meet certain standards in the classroom. Rothfuss says that they will then be able to determine how well students in a school are doing.

ROTHFUSS: And then as we look at those schools, if we identify schools that aren’t doing well in certain areas, they’re not growing fast enough or they’re not achieving high enough, we want to find ways that we can provide them with the support they need.

BECK: Which moves away from where this concept started two years ago, where teachers were actually a target of the legislature.  They even threatened to remove tenure to get them to toe the line.  Senator Michael Von Flatern says that memory still makes teachers suspicious.

MICHAEL VON FLATERN:  They think that the state is now saying that if you have a flunking student we are firing you. We’re not trying to.  We are just trying to take it in generalities, look for the systemic problems and work from there.

BECK:  Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter says she can live with the new approach.

KATHY VETTER:  I think we aren’t the best we can be and I think that’s what’s good about our accountability bills is there talking about providing support and helping everyone improve.

BECK: The state will develop experts in the State Department of Education and at the local district level to help those who are falling short of goals.  Senator Hank Coe stresses that they will be looking at all aspects of education.

HANK COE: We do look at schools, we do look at districts, we do look at administrators, we look at building principals, and we look at teachers.  And we make an attempt to tie it all together so that we can move forward for the benefit of the kids, they’re really the customers in this deal are the kids.  

BECK:  Coe has worked on education reform efforts for a number of years and has watched some of those efforts stall.  He says they are going to see this effort through and he believes it will change things.

COE:  I think we are on the cusp of something big.

BECK: Senator Rothfuss wanted the legislature to adopt some policies that would allow Wyoming Education go even further.  As an example he wanted to raise the age of when students were allowed to drop out and wanted to require four years of math.  But Rothfuss says some districts fought those bills.

ROTHFUSS: Getting to the point where we really start raising the standards, raising the expectations, the dropout age as the legislation I had, or four years of math.  Those are things where there is that concern that we are getting too down into the weeds and we are infringing on local control.

BECK: Still, he’s pleased with what they accomplished.  As he sits outside the House Chambers, House Education Chairman Matt Teeters says his goal may be reached.

MATT TEETERS:  We have the funding in place.  We have the expertise of administrators and teachers in place and the final piece to that I believe is this accountability system.  And together we are going to move forward in a way that’s going to make Wyoming Education top in this country.  That’s my goal. 

BECK:  Teeters says it’s an exciting time for education.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.