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Wyoming Educational Accountability: The Best of the Best?

By Amy Edmonds on December 27, 2012

You’ll be on your way up!  You’ll be seeing great sights!  You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.  You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.  You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.  Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.  Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. –Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go

Over two years ago, Wyoming embarked on what could ultimately become a decade long quest for educational accountability in our public schools; a quest to make Wyoming’s schools “be the best of the best” as Dr. Seuss would say.  A series of long and complicated bills have been passed by the Wyoming Legislature to begin the journey.  But now, some are beginning to question where this road is really taking Wyoming.  What will Wyoming’s parents and children gain and what will they lose in this quest?  Has the Wyoming legislature taken them on a journey they may not have wanted to go on?

What should educational accountability really look like in Wyoming?  If we focus on the values of strong local control, more learning time in the classroom, a stronger understanding of unique learning styles, schools filled with instructional leaders, and robust parental choice, the answer gets much simpler. 

Should the journey include more testing for our students?  Not at all!  We need to decrease the number of tests our children take, not increase the testing burden, as has been the practice under the recent legislation.  Our children are unique human beings, with endless varieties of learning potential.  But treating their learning progress as simple “data-points” in a long running data collection project only serves to push them into pre-assigned boxes of learning, not foster their uniqueness.  And every day taken for testing is a day lost for instruction and learning.  So let’s leave our children in the classroom to learn and grow, and discard the notion that we need to hold a microscope over every minute of their learning.  Too much testing is moving Wyoming in the wrong direction, and national movements like the Common Core Curriculum and the Smarter Balance Consortium only serve to compound the problem.

Should the journey include a top heavy, onerous system of scoring our local schools that is confusing and hard for the average parent to understand?  Not at all! We need to create a transparent and simple scoring system for each and every public school based on student performance achieved through minimal testing.  Ask any parent in the community which school they want their child in and they will have an answer.  And yet, education bureaucrats and consultants who have been working on the education accountability system want to turn a very simple process of evaluating a school based on achievement and giving that school a simple A,B or C grade into something much more onerous and difficult to understand.  These scores will help parents recognize what is happening in their neighborhood schools and they need to be transparent and simple.

Should the journey only hold our public schools accountable to elected legislators?  Not at all! We need statewide parental choice, so parents can use their feet to hold schools accountable.  Parents must be able to choose the school their child attends, including public charter schools, private schools, homeschooling and online learning schools.  Why is Wyoming embarked on an education accountability system that does not allow parents to act on the results?  Policymakers need to be sure that parents are the focus of any effort to hold schools accountable.

Parental empowerment should be at the very heart of the quest for accountability in education.  Why?  Because when parents leave a poorly performing school and the school fails to improve and regain the confidence of parents, it will become an empty school.   And a school that loses all of its children because Wyoming’s parents chose to take their children to a better performing school, is a school that can, and must, be closed.  Now that is the ultimate in educational accountability.

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