Wyoming Liberty Group

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When Hope Clashes with the Reality of Wyoming Education

We all get the warm fuzzies, don’t we, when the auto mechanic confidently assures us he knows the cause of our car’s clunking, that it can be fixed by end of day and it will only cost a small amount? Sure; but then hope and reality clash when the work starts. Taking a look under the hood, the mechanic decides whatever it is, it’s going to take longer and it’s going to cost more – a lot more.

Well, say hello to Wyoming K-12 education.

Based upon professional educator testimony, the Wyoming Supreme Court mandated in its decision “Campbell II” (2001) that certain things were vital to achieving future excellence in education. Class size (low pupil/teacher ratio) was among them.

The theory, especially for lower grades, seemed to be discipline would be better, kids’ efforts would be more focused and teachers would have more quality time to spend one-to-one with each child. Further, it was expected to result in better education outcomes such as improved love of learning, better reasoning ability and higher test scores. It’s a persuasive story and it feels good. Wyoming bought the story and implemented it. Here are our pupil/teacher ratios compared to neighboring states for 2000 - 2013. We have had the lowest (presumably best) ratios by a good margin over the entire time period.

pupil teacher ratios graph

Unfortunately, as with auto repair, hopes clash with reality and we can’t believe everything we’re told. The better education outcomes promised have not been realized: at least not the objectively measurable ones like test scores.

Wyoming’s national test score results for 4th and 8th grades are no better than those of our neighbor states and, overall, most kids fail to reach proficiency.

Wyoming Liberty Group has also looked at the Cowboy State’s recently released statewide ACT scores for 11th graders. They, too, leave much to be desired; most kids are NOT achieving proficiency - necessary to be career or college ready.

Let’s now look at 2016 graduating senior ACT results, released by the Wyoming Department of Education on August 24th. Wyoming kids’ average composite score is 20.0. Other states in our region are: Colorado 20.6, Montana 20.3 and Utah 20.2. Wyoming is no better, actually a little worse, than our neighbors.

Thus it appears that low pupil/teacher ratios are not all they’re cracked up to be. No doubt there are other factors at work and of course no one statistic tells the whole story. But remember, we’ve been TOLD by our highest educational authority that low ratios are crucial to outcomes. Yet we see no evidence to support this theory after more than ten years.

What has this “solution” which is not really a solution been costing? The fact is it costs an enormous amount, and for two reasons. First, low ratios naturally require more teachers (and classrooms and support staff) and, second, Wyoming teachers are by far the best paid teachers in the Rocky Mountain region as the graph below shows.

average elementary teacher salaries wyoming

Thus we pay for more teachers per child AND we pay them much more than they can get elsewhere in our region. (Look here to see Wyoming’s total cost per pupil per year versus other states.) That’s a double whammy to Wyoming’s budget which will soon barely be able to afford a single whammy.

All of this shows yet another clash between the hope of the education establishment’s assurances versus the reality of the results they deliver. Never mind the gold-plated price tag.

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017
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