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No educational miracle here

May 26, 2014 - By Randy Tucker

Wyoming citizens are getting very mixed signals on Common Core from leaders.

I've watched my wife take groups of 5-year old children into her classroom, and in the space of just a few months turn them into voracious readers. I make no claims about understanding this mysterious process.

As a teacher I received students who had learned to read long ago or, in some very sad cases, who never would. She mentions phonics, memorization, and skill-building drills along with the intangible that makes her and thousands more like her nothing short of miracle workers with young children.

The secret to success in classrooms across America for many generations was the academic freedom that teachers once possessed, the ability to determine what their children needed and to provide it in a timely fashion that met the unique abilities of each child.

Contrast that simple idea with the 5-Year Plans endemic to the former Soviet Union during the 1930s. Josef Stalin decided that the existing agricultural system in Russia needed to become standardized -- a "common core" of farming, if you will. The implementation of the first two 5-Year Plans came at gunpoint, and the result was the starvation of an estimated 30 million people.

Stalin's system was eerily similar to the present day "one size fits all" approach coming from Washington, D.C. Differences in climate, seasons between frost, soil types and weather patterns meant nothing. Everyone plowed, planted and harvested on the same day, whether the crop was ready or not.

Just replace bullets with dollars and you have commonality with the educational processes involved in Common Core.

The adoptions of national standards, along with canned reading and math programs, have taken much of the academic freedom from classrooms across the U.S. The mantra is repeated incessantly that all students can learn and learn at the same pace, with the same comprehension and in the same manner. Common Core provides the framework for this type of instruction.

I've taught history and math for more than 30 years, so I was especially interested in the standards being presented in these two fields. History was nothing more than a guideline of how the student should react to reading prompts. Not much in the way of the great-event/great-ideas manner in which I taught the subject.

The math guidelines are incredibly detailed, down to the worksheet level in some cases, and seem to be written by people who were terrified of the subject as students themselves and decided to share that horror with every American child.

In his State of the State Address in 2012 Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead addressed these concerns.

"Now is the time, without regard to what the federal government may want, for us to step up, refuse to be left behind and accept common core standards as determined by Wyoming citizens," he said. "We are not signing on with federal curriculum. These are Wyoming standards. We are signing on to a better future for our children by demanding more rigorous standards."

What a difference a couple of years can make.

Just last week Gov. Mead defended Common Core on a radio talk show, stating "Wyoming students have to have some standard to work from."

His statement rang hollow to the tens of thousands of hours Wyoming teachers worked to create our own state standards over the last two decades -- standards unique to Wyoming but now being flushed with the advent of a federal curriculum.

In another interesting twist, it seems that State Superintendent Cindy Hill was guilty of not playing along with the mission of the governor and key legislators to get Common Core quickly implemented in the state.

Hill was removed from management authority in January of 2013, and it didn't take long for the Common Core proponents to gather and begin quietly attempting to implement these federal standards below the public's radar.

The process began with interim WDE director Jim Rose in early 2013, requesting that Wyoming take part in the "Improving Student Learning at Scale: A Collaborative Project" with five other states implementing Common Core.

As part of the $65,000 grant process, each state had to assemble a state team. Wyoming's team represents some interesting members.

Mary Kay Hill, Gov. Mead's education liaison leads the group. Richard Crandall, also appointed by Gov.Mead to lead the WDE in Hill's absence, is a member, as is Paige Fenton Hughes, representing the Wyoming Board of Education, a board appointed by Mead. Rounding out the list is Dr. Jim Rose of the Wyoming Community College Commission, Cody superintendent Ray Schulte, Bill Schilling of the Wyoming Business Council and Leadership Wyoming, and State Sen. Hank Coe of Cody.

Coe stated in a letter of support for the ISLS grant, "As the Senate Education Chair in the Wyoming Legislature, I have been very involved with comprehensive education reform, including the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards."

So there you have it. A governor who publicly opposes federal intervention in education but that quietly pushes to implement it in private. There's no educational miracle here, just politics (with a $) as usual.

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Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retied public school educator.

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