Wyoming Liberty Group

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Not proficient in reading and math? No job for you!

We read frequently about employers who desperately want to hire and put people to work. And we often read about how young people are desperate to find jobs “with a living wage.” So why aren’t they teaming up and living happily ever after? Where’s the disconnect?

It’s in basic skills. Employers routinely report that people they interview don’t have the skills they’re looking for. What are those skills? At the most basic level, they’re proficiency in reading and math.

What skills do Wyoming young people increasingly lack? Reading and math.

In previous commentary, Wyoming Liberty Group reported on Wyoming students’ low achievement levels on 4th and 8th grade NAEP tests; for years over half of Wyoming kids have been failing to reach proficiency in both subjects.

We can hear the objection now; what do 4th and 8th grade NAEP scores have to do with skills at hiring time? Because they are the canary in the coal mine – if the canary isn’t healthy, it’s signaling trouble for everyone. In this case, the signal means trouble in higher grades.

Indeed, it does. The effects of poor scores in the lower grades are visible in Wyoming’s 11th grade 2016 ACT scores which the Wyoming Department of Education recently released to the public. On reviewing them you may want to cry because they represent real kids who aspire to good jobs or colleges but aren’t equipped to get them. See the graph below from the Wyoming Department of Education (Wyoming Liberty Group notations in red).

2015 16 ACT Performance Levels

Go to 2016 Statewide High School Assessment Results and see for yourself. Reading: 68 percent and 64 percent were NOT proficient (meaning basic and below) in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Math: 62 percent and 60 percent. Science: 69 percent and 67 percent. This is massive, scandalous failure. W.S. 21-2-204(b)(iv) clearly states that that a goal of the system is to “ensure all students leave Wyoming schools career or college ready.” Where is the investigative journalism; where are the lawsuits? These are our children, bound for lives of chronic unemployment and despair.

Furthermore, the trends are not favorable. Average statewide ACT scores are as follows for 2014 through 2016 - Reading: 20.3, 20.0, 20.5. Math: 19.7, 19.5, 19.7. Science: 20.1, 20.2, 20.4. English: 19.0, 18.8, 19.1. Are there signs of meaningful improvement there? Hardly a glimmer.

The big picture is that many kids are failing at the 4th, 8th and 11th grade levels and improvement is not in sight. Also relevant is this fact: Wyoming has been spending massive sums on K-12 education for over a decade, now over $17,000 per pupil per year. That amount is probably no longer affordable.

It’s time to move forward with change. Current methods are not working. They’re hideously expensive. America’s universities did not become the finest in the world using a one-size-fits-all government template. So why not launch a revolution in K-12 education with new ideas? Why not change the constitution and enable competition, innovation and excellence? Let parents have the freedom to choose and innovate for their children. We have the resources. Let’s equip Wyoming kids so they have the skills to ensure employers say “yes!”

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Saturday, 23 September 2017
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