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Common Core controversy

Powell Middle School social studies teacher Tara Kennedy discusses an assignment with a student during class last week. From kindergarten through 12th grade, teachers are aligning their curriculum with the Common Core State Standards, which Wyoming adopted last year. Powell Middle School social studies teacher Tara Kennedy discusses an assignment with a student during class last week. From kindergarten through 12th grade, teachers are aligning their curriculum with the Common Core State Standards, which Wyoming adopted last year. Tribune photo by Tessa Schweigert

While many Republicans oppose standards, State Board of Education stands firm



A set of education standards being implemented in Powell and around the state have become the subject of mounting political controversy in recent days, despite having been developed years earlier.

Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell doesn’t think the controversy has to do with the Common Core State Standards themselves.

“There is just something going on in the United States right now with pushback,” Mitchell said at a school board meeting last month. “Some people call them Tea Party, others Libertarians. I don’t know that they belong to any particular group — I’m just saying there’s a group of people who are really anti-federal government in a lot of ways. And why they attack this one little part, I still have not been able to figure out.”

A number of conservative groups — including the Park County Republican Party — have taken aim at the standards, saying they erode local control and are unduly influenced by the federal government.

“Bureaucrats far removed from American families and their children’s classrooms are doubling down on control,” says former state legislator Amy Edmonds, now with the free market think tank Wyoming Liberty Group. “Implementation of the Common Core is just another in a long line of government’s empty, failed promises.”

Edmonds spoke to the State Board of Education last week and at local meetings recently, asking that the state end its use of Common Core Standards and return to a system that better allows for local control.

Wyoming plans to stick with Common Core.

“The State Board of Education’s position of being in favor of the Common Core has been reaffirmed,” board chairman Ron Micheli was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article. “And it will stay that way until there is a change in the position of the board.”

Though the state can opt out of Common Core Standards at any time, state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said Wyoming educators may not want to.

“I have yet to find a school district or administration that doesn’t support the Common Core State Standards,” Coe said at a Park County Republican Women’s meeting last month.

Similarly, most Powell teachers like the new standards, Mitchell said.

No teachers in the Powell school district have complained to Mitchell about the new standards, he said. Local teachers at every grade level began using curriculum they aligned to the standards at the beginning of the school year.


What the standards are

The Wyoming Department of Education describes standards as defining “what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level in any given subject.”

Wyoming has standards for nine content areas in education, ranging from fine arts to physical education. Common Core Standards address only two areas — math and language arts.

For example, Common Core Standards say one of the things kindergartners will learn is how to count to 100. How kindergartners learn to count — through activities, worksheets, music or other ways — is up to local teachers.

Teachers determine the curriculum for their classrooms, aligning it to the Common Core State Standards, Mitchell said.

“Local control and innovation are a key part of this. The standards specify what students should know and be able to do in each grade ... it is still up to states, districts, schools and teachers to determine how to get students to that point,” said Sen. Coe, who serves as chairman of Wyoming’s Senate Education Committee.

The Powell school district hasn’t had to purchase any new books for Common Core Standards, Mitchell said. Books may be suggested in the standards, but teachers still choose texts and materials for their lessons, he said.

Educators have said Common Core is more rigorous than previous standards, and some opponents have called them too advanced for kindergarten and first-grade students.

Mitchell asked all teachers in August if the new standards were too difficult for kids, specifically the district’s youngest students.

“Not one kindergarten or first-grade teacher — or any teacher for that matter — said they were developmentally inappropriate,” Mitchell said.


A national set of standards?

Though some have called Common Core federal standards, Coe said the U.S. Department of Education had no part in developing them. Rather, it was an effort led by states, he said. So far, 45 states have voluntarily adopted Common Core Standards.

“There’s no national curriculum here,” Coe said.

Edmonds said she has a hard time seeing how Wyoming was involved.

“No one from Wyoming created the standards,” she said last month.

While Wyoming educators and residents had opportunities to comment on Common Core, she said no changes were made to the standards.

“When I think of a Wyoming-led standards initiative, I think of professors from the University of Wyoming, teachers from our communities, sitting down and reviewing and writing those standards and being involved in the process,” Edmonds said. “That is not how it happened. The standards were delivered to the state, written, and then they were reviewed as is.”

Wyoming does have freedom to adapt the Common Core State Standards, Mitchell said.

“You can change up to 20 percent of the language in the standards and still have them align with assessments,” he said.

Wyoming could add to the standards, too, and make them more difficult, Mitchell said.

That the standards are not rigorous enough is one of the criticisms voiced by some opponents, including the group Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core.

While discussion has focused on who wrote the Common Core State Standards, Mitchell asked if that is actually very important.

“Does it matter who wrote them? It’s really whether they’re good or not,” he said. “Are they good for the students of Wyoming?”

Mitchell said it’s also ironic that people act like national standards and assessments aren’t in place already.

“The ACT is a national test and has its own set of national standards. I don’t know that anyone in Wyoming even got a chance to participate in writing the ACT standards,” he said. “We don’t question that assessment, because the universities like it and that’s what they use to deem if a kid is ready for college work.”

The ACT exam is based on national standards, “and all 50 states use it,” Mitchell said.

Wyoming now uses the ACT to measure proficiency and college readiness for all 11th-grade students.

For years, states have been using other national assessments, such as the SAT and NAEP.

“Nobody’s complaining about those,” Mitchell said.


GOP announces opposition

Earlier this month, the Park County Republican Central Committee unanimously voted to adopt a resolution opposing Common Core State Standards, said Chairman Larry French. The Wyoming Republican State Central Committee had already passed the resolution, and the Park County committee wanted to join the effort, French said.

French said he doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with having standards and accountability in education. However, French said he personally doesn’t want to see any federal involvement in education — whether it’s standards, money, curriculum or information gathering.

“I feel we’re perfectly capable of educating our kids in Wyoming,” he said. “We don’t need government interference from Washington, D.C.”

French said he’s also worried about what could come down the road.

“I’m just opposed to the hidden consequences that will come from this — unintended consequences always show up,” he said.

The adoption of Common Core first began in Wyoming in 2009, when then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride and then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed an agreement to participate in the process leading to a set of Common Core State Standards, according to the Wyoming Department of Education. From there, the state released drafts, surveyed school districts, allowed public comments, held public meetings and reviewed the standards, according to the department.

In April 2012, the State Board of Education voted 8-4 to adopt the standards. Gov. Matt Mead signed the new content standards into law in July 2012, following a 75-day review.

Education standards are reviewed every five years by a committee of Wyoming teachers, community members and parents, according to the Department of Education. Ultimately, the State Board of Education must give final approval to state standards.

As the debate about Common Core continues, Mitchell cautions that changing the standards means looking at the entire education system — not just one element.

He said it’s important standards, curriculum and tests are aligned if Wyoming lawmakers are holding districts, teachers schools and students accountable for results.

“If you want to stop all accountability, then stop all accountability,” Mitchell said. “But you can’t just pull one piece out, because then the train keeps going.”


  • posted by Anna Manning

    April 12, 2014 3:14 pm

    COMMON CORE is NOT the answer to our educational system. It is designed to give the federal government control over our schools. As a teacher I would say No to COMMON CORE. It does not permit creativity or taking the intiative. All students do not fit in the same mold. Treat students as individuals.

  • posted by Rebecca King

    December 17, 2013 7:29 am

    I suggest this reporter get on the sub list at the school. Once she is given a few common core lessons to kids she will understand why people hate common core. She is being given the "cue the deer" common core go teach it and sit in the teachers' room, then write your article.

  • posted by Michelle Foshiem

    October 26, 2013 7:37 am

    YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY WRONG!!! Hulett High just lost an AMAZING teacher, Mrs. Jen Jay because of the restrictions and stress brought about because of common core! They stand to lose MORE teachers, all who are wonderful to Common Core!!! Please RESEARCH your articles before you spread Common Core propaganda as you are WRONG! I plan on pulling my 7 year old daughter out of public school because of Common Core. My daughter is in 2nd, reading at 5th and math at 4th. She's being held back, and is getting bored because of the Common Core standards. Common Core won't let a child excel and won't let one be failed or left behind. No child left behind...........sound familiar? Common Core is all about fitting children into an unrealistic mold where they are taught to follow the leader and not taught to be free thinking individuals. NO COMMON CORE IN WYOMING!!!

  • posted by Deborah Wallace

    October 23, 2013 10:53 pm

    Twenty five years ago I brought the forerunner of the common core to the attention of your community. At that time it was called outcome based education. The High School was to use portfolios instead of grades and so I pulled my daughter from public school and home schooled her. I was ridiculed in this paper and in the community. Now the fruit of this dumbed down curriculum has come to you with its national standards. The United States ranks 23rd of 25 countries in math and science. Every place common core is implemented test scores plummet. Research Kentucky and New York. For the sake of your children's future reject common core. It a loser no matter what your Superintendent tells you.

  • posted by Richard Garlish

    October 21, 2013 12:30 pm

    I too am free to comment as I am removed from the "Politics" of education. The far right or Tea Party has once again lashed out as it has against every initiative, but as usual, offers no alternatives. From ACA to sequestration to defaulting on the national debt, their only agenda is to obstruct rather than build. I can tell you that I have spent more than a little time researching, reviewing, evaluating, and above all, applying CCSS to the classroom and I feel that they are a vast improvement over our previous Wyoning Content Standards. Lastly, I can tell you that CCSS were developed and adopted on the "Backs" of previous state standards with Rhodes Scholars like David Coleman identifying specific, measurable skills that will make our students college and career ready.

  • posted by Christy Hooley

    October 21, 2013 10:53 am

    I could have NEVER imagined, eighteen months ago, what my life currently entails. My love of being in the classroom, the thrill of watching my students grow and learn, building relationships with them and my colleagues, would have been replaced. What has replaced that long held passion to teach in the classroom? It was the desire to be the best teacher for my students that lead me to take a training class on the Common Core State Standards. Being thrilled for the improvements that it claimed to give, I began to dig deeper. With copious research, I realized that there is MUCH more to “CCSS” than just a new set of “rigorous” standards. I found that our individual and unique way of educating students in Wyoming, would be gone. Your school district honestly doesn’t have a reason to see an opposing side to it, or have a reason to mistrust the process that brought it to our schools. I am now able to speak openly about the growing controversy, without repercussions, and openly educate on both the pros and cons of Common Core. Sadly, the research shows that the cons greatly outweigh the pros. If it was just about better standards I would not be writing this and speaking out against it daily. It’s satisfying to realize that my passion for education is still alive and well but just taken on a new face! Educate yourself, teachers can’t speak out!

    Christy Hooley

  • posted by Brent Lohrenz

    October 18, 2013 1:31 pm

    Common Core was forced on America through the Stimulus Bill and authored by Van Jones and the Apollo Alliance. With major influence from Bill Ayers the progressive education reformer and Weather Underground terrorist. Basically Common Core is really Communist Core education. It is about money. Do some homework on Bill Gates(Microsoft) and G.E. Why is big business influencing public education and why is personal data collected on students allowed to go to third parties? It may look all shiny on the outside but is truly rotten at it's core. Combined with the fact that Obama has taken away the student loans from private establishments, the future of our children is even more in the hands of a socialist leaning government.

  • posted by Suzie Q

    October 17, 2013 5:18 pm

    It's so important to educate yourself for the sake of your children and grandchildren. This is not what it appears to be on the surface. Do your duty to your country and your children, please do your due diligence and research this out. The future of this country depends on it!

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    October 17, 2013 12:37 pm

    Common core is another United Nations Agenda 21 tool.The dumbing down of America has been an outstanding success.

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