As Legislature prepares to study education system, officials urge a review of classroom offerings
Department of Education officials are urging lawmakers to look at the state's educational program.
February 21, 2020
Department of Education officials are urging lawmakers to look at the state's educational program and update it for learning in a world that's wildly different than it was when that program was designed 20 years ago.
"The challenge for local school districts is that a 21st century education is not fully aligned to the basket of goods," State Superintendent Jillian Balow wrote in an editorial published in the Star-Tribune earlier this month. The term "basket of goods" refers to the skills and content areas that schools are required to cover. "And as school boards endeavor to fund the basket with a block grant, their ability to implement a modern classroom is thwarted by an outdated basket."
In a budget session where most bills will fall by the wayside, the Legislature is certain to pass a bill allowing for a group of lawmakers to study — the technical term is recalibrate — the state's education system. The process typically involves a select committee overseeing the work of a state-hired consultant, who will have two primary tasks: first, determine what constitutes an adequate and equitable education for all 13,000-odd Wyoming students; and second, determine how much it would cost to provide that education.
That effort may result in the state changing its funding model. It may result in the Legislature keeping its current model, which dictates how school districts are funded in line with the education the state has decided is adequate and equitable. In 2017, for instance, consultants recommended a model that was $70 million more expensive than the current model. Unsurprisingly, the Legislature did not run with that suggestion.
The reason that recalibration is as close to a lock as any bill can be is because it's legally required. The Legislature must recalibrate every five years to ensure the education system is passing constitutional muster. The last regularly scheduled recalibration was in 2015. There was a special recalibration in 2017 amid legislative scrambling to cover a yawning funding deficit. But an assistant attorney general who spoke to lawmakers last year indicated that they would likely have to undertake it again in 2020.
This process has typically not included cracking open the basket of goods. The basket includes 12 content areas — dubbed the common core of knowledge — which include the classes and subjects students take: social studies, reading, math, physical education and health. The basket also includes six "skills" that students need to learn. They include creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving — more intangible abilities that cross-cut subject areas.
The basket has remained largely static since 1997. In 2018, the Legislature added computer science as a required content area and computational thinking as a required skill. It simultaneously removed applied technology and keyboarding, so the basket neither grew nor shrank. But the addition of computer science was not insignificant, especially given the broad changes needed to institute such a specific and technical subject.
Dicky Shanor, Balow's chief of staff at the Education Department, said the state Supreme Court was "very explicit" that the basket should not be static. In a series of court cases beginning in the mid-1990s, the court essentially overhauled the state's education system, laying out the framework that guides it today and requires recalibration.