Education

WPM is committed to covering education issues in Wyoming in a thoughtful and thorough way. This main page captures all education-related stories we've aired, and updates you on broad issues.

Check out our Strengthening Education Reporting page for stories focused primarily on graduation rates and how to encourage an upward trend in education.

The Hess Corporation announced a $15 million donation to the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources Thursday. Hess has now given a total of  $25 million to UW, making the oil and gas giant the largest corporate donor in the university’s history.

The funds will go towards construction of UW’s High Bay Research Facility—as well as equipment used in the facility and some proprietary research done there. Hess’s research will focus mostly on figuring out how to tap hard-to-reach oil and gas reservoirs.

Bob Beck

Five years ago the Wyoming legislature embarked on its latest attempt at reforming education in the state. Lawmakers said Wyoming was spending a lot  of money on education and students were underperforming. After rejecting drastic changes such as getting rid of teacher tenure, the legislature settled on coming up with a way to score school districts, schools, teacher leaders, and teachers themselves.

As kids across Wyoming take the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students—or PAWS—test this month, the State Board of Education is looking for input on the future of statewide testing.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the state needs to decide what test it will use to gauge student learning down the line. Board member Sue Belish says lawmakers asked the State Board to play a role.

In the recent legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers voted to allow the State Board of Education to again consider the Next Generation Science Standards. In its first meeting since the session ended, the Board voted unanimously Tuesday to get back to work adopting science standards.

Last year, a committee of Wyoming science educators recommended the Next Generation Science Standards after 18 months of review. All members of that committee will be invited back to continue their work--and those who don’t return will be replaced.

Willow Belden

Some University of Wyoming professors have been traveling to fourth grade classrooms around the state in an effort to research and improve the teaching of Wyoming history.

The project combines history with art and hands-on activities. Education professors Allen Trent and Peter Moran plan to bring it to each of the state’s counties by the end of this school year.

The lesson plans and resources they use are all online for any Wyoming teacher to access. Trent says that’s important.

A Meeteetse High School science project is now a finalist in a national teaching contest. The teacher and some students are on their way to New York to try to win the 120,000 dollar prize.

Meeteetse’s high school science students based their project on the Pitchfork ranch. The students used math, science, engineering, and computer skills to perfect self cleaning gates to keep Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the  Greybull river, and out of irrigation ditches.where they often die.

Their teacher, Michael Power, says their project can affect the entire ecosystem.

Wyoming school districts say they are pleased that state lawmakers voted to approve inflation adjustments for school funding during the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

On Wednesday, Governor Matt Mead signed the legislation approving those cost of living adjustments for schools.

Sublette County School District One’s Superintendent Jay Harnack was part of a coalition that lobbied for the funding. State law requires these adjustments, but districts haven’t seen them in recent years. Harnack says this will allow his district to get back on track.

Funding for Wyoming afterschool programs could be on the federal chopping block.

Most afterschool programs in the state have been supported by more than $5 million in grants provided each year under the federal education law No Child Left Behind. But Congress’s current reauthorization proposals for the law would allow states to spend federal education funding however they want—with no specific money tied to afterschool programs.

Photo Courtesy Wyoming Catholic College via Facebook

Wyoming Catholic College in Lander has decided not to offer federal grants and loans to its students. It says doing so could threaten the school’s religious liberties.

Last year, the small, 8-year-old college took its first step toward accreditation. The move meant credits earned at W-C-C could be transferred to other schools—and made it eligible for federal loan programs.

But the college’s Board of Director’s voted unanimously last month not to participate in those programs—known as Title IV.

The House and Senate will convene a conference committee to try and iron out a piece of legislation that supporters say is key to education reform. 

The bill sets up the next phase of a school accountability program that grades educators and provides help if they aren't meeting expectations. The House voted to remove state oversight from the bill. Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers says it goes too far.

A greater percentage of Wyoming high school students graduated on time last year than the year before. That’s according to data released Wednesday by the Wyoming Department of Education.

The four-year graduation rate for the 2013-2014 school year was 78.6 percent—up from 77.5 percent the year before—and compared with 81 percent nationwide. 

On Monday, Governor Matt Mead signed a bill that reopens the debate over teaching climate change science in schools. The Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS, include the concept that climate change is real and largely caused by man. In Wyoming, and a handful of other states, that’s controversial. So last year, the state legislature banned discussion to adopt them.  

Pete Gosar, Chairman of the Wyoming Board of Education, says the board now plans to begin debating the standards at their March meeting.  

Aaron Schrank

There’s a nationwide push to get more students involved in STEM education. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But, despite enthusiasm—and Wyoming’s above average school funding— few K-12 schools in the state have been able to build the STEM programs they’d like. Many of those that have—have done so not with funding and support from the state—but from the energy industry. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports.

The fate of the Next Generation Science Standards will soon be back in the hands of the State Board of Education.

Last year, the Legislature, through a budget amendment, blocked the state board from adopting the standards because of concerns about how they addressed climate change. 

A bill removing the budget footnote passed the House easily this year, but got hung up when Senator Eli Bebout added a last second amendment that instructed the board to adopt standards unique to Wyoming. 

Bebout says after a conference committee they came up with new language.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A bill that would have removed gun free zones from Wyoming schools, athletic events, and government meetings has been substantially changed by the Senate Education Committee. 

The committee voted 3 to 2 to approve an amended bill that lets local school boards, college boards of trustees, and local government officials to decide if guns will be allowed within their facilities. 

Senator Hank Coe of Cody says local officials can better decide whether guns should be allowed in their jurisdiction.

After several amendments the House Education Committee approved a bill that is intended to move forward with Wyoming’s education accountability system. 

After a series of amendments by Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers the committee pushed back the next phase of the accountability process. 

Sommers says he wanted to take another look at the accountability model and give the committee addressing accountability more time.  

Over the past year, The Next Generation Science Standards have stirred debate in Wyoming—which continues today. Lawmakers have taken issue with what the standards say about climate change. Laramie Democrat Pete Gosar has something of a front row seat for this discussion. He’s recently been named chairman of the State Board of Education—after serving for four years on that body, which is responsible for reviewing and adopting education standards. I spoke with Pete Gosar to get his take on the standards—and the controversy around them.​ 

The Wyoming Senate has voted to give teachers a pay increase. The external cost adjustment will be the first that teachers have received since 2009. Senator Stan Cooper says a lack of cost of living adjustments has caused problems for rural school districts who are trying to hire new teachers. 

Glenrock Republican Jim Anderson adds that the energy boom in Converse County has driven up local rent and other costs. He says that has forced teachers to relocate.

    

A group of Casper parents is looking to launch a new charter school for high-achieving kids. They're planning to submit their application to the Natrona County School District on Monday.

The proposed K-8 school is called The Guild Charter School. Backers say the school would offer individualized learning plans for each student and be more academically rigorous.

Bob Beck / Natrona County High School

This year, a University of Wyoming program that helps low-income high school students plan for college will run out of funding, but backers hope to keep it going.

The Wyoming College Advising Corps is funded by a federal grant. Last year, the program provided resources to about 400 Wyoming students.

Project Director Teresa Nealon says there are 10 full-time advisors in schools around the state, counseling students about how to prepare for college.

It will take a conference committee to determine whether the State Board of Education may adopt the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. The standards say students should learn about climate change — and last year the House passed a budget amendment barring the State Board of Education from considering the standards.  

The Wyoming House of Representative has approved a cost of living increase for teacher salaries. The amendment was part of the debate on the state supplemental budget. Called the External Cost Adjustment or ECA, it provides extra funding for districts to use for teacher pay increases. 

Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers says teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2009, mainly due to budget concerns.

University of Wyoming

Hands-on problem solving is the aim of a new project at the University of Wyoming. “WyoMakers” gives Junior High students in Laramie access to UW students and resources to work on design projects.

Tonia Dousay is the project’s founder, and says students think about problem solving more deeply when they create something, as opposed to simply memorizing information. For example, she says designing model boats with 3D printers gives students an opportunity to look closely at building materials and dimensions in a tangible way.

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that allows the State Board of Education to consider the Next Generation Science Standards. But the Senate also added an amendment that has some concerned. 

Senator Eli Bebout changed the bill to say that the state board may consider NGSS in addition to others in order to -- quote -- "develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming." 

Bebout says his amendment requires nothing, but Senate President Phil Nicholas says it implies that the state board should come up with standards unique to Wyoming.

gosarforgovernor.com

Democrat Pete Gosar, who challenged Matt Mead in the Governor’s race last year, is the new chairman of the State Board of Education.

Gosar replaces outgoing chair Ron Micheli. Gosar says one the biggest tasks facing the board is putting new science standards in place. A bill that would allow the Board to consider the controversial Next Generation Science Standards is currently making its way through the legislature.

Without any debate, the Wyoming Senate gave initial support to a bill that would allow the State Board of Education to consider adopting the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. Last year the House of Representatives added a budget footnote that kept the Board from considering the standards, in part because of concerns about how they address climate change.

The Senate never debated the issue. Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says removing that footnote will allow the State Board of Education to do its job.          

Jeremy Wilburn, Flickr Creative Commons

Nearly a year after Wyoming lawmakers blocked the State Board of Education from considering a set of science standards that include climate change, a bill to put the standards back on the table is up for debate. When the dust settles, it could mean a change in classroom conversations about climate.

At Natrona County High School in Casper, 10th grade biology students are dropping bits of beef liver into test tubes filled with hydrogen peroxide. Today’s lesson is on enzymes, but science teacher Bryan Aivazian doesn’t spend much time lecturing.

The Wyoming House of Representatives is moving forward with legislation that would eliminate the writing assessment from the statewide testing. 

Writing and language is among the standards used to determine school performance, but Cheyenne Democrat Mary Throne says the writing and language assessment is arbitrary. Casper Republican Steve Harshman is a High School Teacher.  He says the state standards forced his school to water down its writing requirements.

Concealed guns would be allowed in schools, on college campuses, and in government meetings under a bill that will be considered by the Wyoming House of Representatives. 

The bill would repeal gun free zones and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on an 8-1 vote. Gun supporters say the legislation could keep schools safe, but education organizations and State Superintendent Jillian Balow oppose the measure. Chris Boswell of the University of Wyoming says the bill is problematic.

The Wyoming House Education Committee has voted down a proposed Constitutional Amendment that could have led to an appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The 7-2 vote to kill the bill likely ends a two year effort to remove the Superintendent as an elected state official.

Noting heavy public opposition to the bill, Encampment Republican Jerry Paxton said it’s time to stop the discussion.

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