Wyoming’s Path to the Common Core

When the latest federal Race to the Top program was revealed, states like Wyoming rushed to join the national standards movement with the hope of obtaining big-government money and attaining big-government promises; promises of new standards that were – in the words of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – Fewer, Clearer, Higher. xvi  Outside of government, proponents like the Gates Foundation had been making spurious promises such as fewer overall standards, which were both clearer and at a higher level than all other state standards.

With the stroke of a pen in the spring of 2009, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the backers of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, entangling Wyoming in the national Common Core State Standards. xvii  In joining, Wyoming promised to submit to the leadership of the Common Core initiative, submit to the development process of the standards as well as the national validation process. Ultimately, Wyoming was on the hook to comply with the rigid standards-adoption process with no path for Wyoming to directly impact the content of the standards themselves.

“A relentless and coordinated push by philanthropic and bureaucratic experts to shift authority and responsibility from local citizens and independent school districts to the far-removed high cover of central authorities.”

The MOA, like the philanthropic powerhouse backing the Common Core, promised yet another round of decades-old “big dreams” including national standards that are “aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school” and “inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21st century.” xviii

Note that the claim is to produce young people who will have economic utility. This is far from the American Dream that each person should become the most that he or she can be, according to a personal pursuit of happiness. Such dull materialistic thinking is characteristic of socialistic values.

The ambiguity of these promises seemed to fall on deaf ears among Wyoming’s public figures. Indeed, the exact words in the MOA were repeated time and again by Wyoming bureaucrats in memos to describe the Common Core, leaving the reader to wonder if the proponents had even read beyond the MOA to the standards themselves.

The memorandum signed by the governor and state superintendent also stated very clearly that development of K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math standards would happen at the national level spearheaded by the NGA and CCSSO, which would oversee the development-process group that included Achieve, ACT and the College Board.

States were encouraged to “provide input” with no real understanding of how that “input” would be used to shape or possibly change the standards. Instead, the memorandum laid out an airtight development and validation process that left no room for states to collaborate on the writing of new standards.

And governors and state education chiefs from all over the country signed-on, creating the illusion that states were leading the creation of the standards.

In notes dated April 29, 2009, and obtained from the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE), information from a teleconference call between interested states (including Wyoming) and CCSSO/NGA organizers noted that the MOA would not be made public until received by all the governors and state education chiefs. xix States were then given only three weeks to respond, granting no time for state policymakers to seek input from parents and teachers. The notes describe information from the call regarding the link between standards and curriculum: “CCSSO recognizes that standards are only one piece – the development of companion curricula and instructional materials should be addressed at a later date.”

“The WY State Board of Education has not been part of the discussion regarding this project. They are charged with reviewing and adopting the state Standards. Signing the MOA before they are involved may be problematic.”

The notes contain concerns expressed by callers regarding the rigid adoption process for the standards: “The MOA includes a commitment that member states will ‘adopt’ the common core of standards. Clarification is needed on what ‘adopt’ means in different states.”xxi

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