Amy Edmonds

A decade ago, American families were promised a bright new hope in public education that would ensure the achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students would disappear.

Our students would outcompete workers internationally, and be “college and career ready,” including in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

What was behind that hope? Well, a large part of it was the infamous Common Core State Standards. Another part was President Obama’s billion-dollar Race to the Top federal “carrot and stick” incentive program, used to coerce states into adopting these standards wholesale in exchange for the promise of federal money (and hey, what state isn’t desperate for more federal money to offset the ever-rising cost of public education?).

These two programs were going to bring us all some pretty spectacular outcomes, or so we were told.

And the results?

As a nation, ACT and SAT college readiness test scores have flatlined or are going down. The achievement gap is still there and, in some cases, widening, and U.S. students’ scores, compared internationally, are down.

Even more concerning, our ACT math scores nationwide hit a 20-year low. In an October piece in Education Week, ACT CEO Marten Roorda stated, “We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining.”

For Wyoming, results have been stagnant, at best, with fourth-grade National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores going down from 244 in 2011 to 239 in 2017, and fourth-grade NAEP reading scores stagnating at 220 in 2009 and 221 in 2017. Wyoming’s 11th-grade ACT scores aren’t any better, with reading and math scores simply going down a tiny bit since 2012. Even the SAT scores, after being “realigned” with Common Core standards, haven’t improved dramatically.

Wait, what? We were told Common Core was the salvation for all our educational woes. We were told all the money we spent here in Wyoming and all the rigmarole of new curriculum, new textbooks, new standardized tests, new ... well, everything, was going to be the absolute last word in education.

Such are the promises of progressive politicians and bureaucrats. Sadly, in Wyoming, far too many of our own politicians and bureaucrats fell hook, line and sinker for this big federal stinker. And Wyoming students, like students nationwide, are still paying the price.

You see, Wyoming, like so many other states, fell for the Common Core standards not because they believed it would solve all the problems in education, but because they feared losing federal dollars and because they wanted Race to the Top funds, deliciously dangled by the Obama administration before cash-strapped states in a scheme as old as time.

Yet here in Wyoming, not all of our government players were on board with these standards. Many conservative legislators and school board members across the state have been voicing opposition for a very long time.

Back in 2014, when current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow debated her Democrat opponent, Mike Ceballos, she gave voice to concerns she was hearing all over the state from parents and teachers alike. She said in a Casper Star-Tribune article, “We need high standards, and there are some good things about the current standards, and they’ve been adopted. But we also need to look at the states that have standards that aren’t the Common Core standards and have a high rating. And we need to look at what we value.”

She is exactly right.

Wyoming would do well to stop looking to the federal government for solutions like the federally inspired Common Core ruse, and instead focus on finding our own workable solutions right here; or as Balow said, we need to look at what “we value” first and foremost.

Wyoming has shown a willingness to pay any price (and perhaps even raise any tax) to pay for public education regardless of outcomes, so why not do something really profound like giving taxpayers a break and families real options – through implementing school choice?

Wyoming has always been hostile to school choice, but perhaps now is the time for that to change. Because unlike the Common Core, here’s an idea that won’t cost an arm and a leg (or any new taxes, for that matter), and could provide real improvements for families all over the state.

With the average cost of private education nationwide somewhere around $10,000 per child, Wyoming is paying somewhere between $16,000 and $18,000 per child. School choice – through vouchers, tax credit scholarships or even education savings accounts – would be quite a savings to our state and families, would provide more affordable options for parents and could actually improve our students’ educations.

Given what we spent on Common Core, I say, why not be more open to school choice? Who can it hurt at this point, other than those playing political games with our children’s futures?

Amy Edmonds is a former state legislator and former communications director for Congresswoman Liz Cheney who lives in Cheyenne. When she’s not watching reruns of “Yes Minister,” she can be reached at amynharlan@me.com.

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