Misplaced priorities could cost Wyoming's future

2013-02-20T00:00:00Z Misplaced priorities could cost Wyoming's future Casper Star-Tribune Online
February 20, 2013 12:00 am

Let's get something straight: Students need to know how we fund education. They need to know that we have some of the best facilities, best teachers and best opportunities that money can buy.

And that money comes from one place -- the energy industry.

But for all the money we throw at education -- sometimes suffering from the enviable problem: How do we spend it all? -- we don't get great results.

Look at graduation rates. Look at standardized test results. We're not getting what we pay for.

For anyone following education in Wyoming, that's not news either.

The question becomes how to we make the most of the wealth our energy industry has provided to the students of Wyoming?

We have a simple answer: Better results.

However, we don't think the results will be better by just adding a curriculum designed by energy companies. That's the plan according to legislation that is making its way through the Capitol that would create an energy curriculum.

We agree that new curriculum might be needed in schools. Obviously, the lackluster results that Wyoming achieves leave much room for improvement. But just adding curricula or courses that seem Wyoming-friendly may, in the long run, be more of a detriment to students than benefit.

We don't fault legislators who would know better than anyone what kind of money the energy industry gives to education. That's why it is easy for them to rally around the idea of an energy curriculum. It's also a justifiable position to promote energy education when so much of Wyoming's economy is dependent upon energy.

However, on the same day the Senate passed Senate File 55 which charges the governor's office with creating the energy curriculum, it also killed two bills aimed at shoring up Wyoming's education deficiencies.

To us, it's not a matter of energy curriculum versus other educational initiatives. Both can be useful.

Rather, the problem we have is one of priorities.

The Senate voted to kill a bill that would have placed stricter requirements for math for high school students. The second bill would have made the compulsory school age 18 instead of 16.

Both bills were introduced as a way to help high school students become better prepared for the work force of tomorrow.

For example, stricter math requirements were put into place in order to help the huge number of students who need remedial courses when they get to colleges and universities. This suggests that Wyoming students are not adequately prepared before they leave high school.

Moreover, requiring attendance in high school until the age of 18 would have made it harder for students to drop out. Ask nearly any teenager if they want to go to school. We'll bet on the answer. Yet, keeping students in school not only will help increase our graduation rates, it'll also continue to prepare them for Wyoming's workforce.

What does it say about our state when we can add an energy curriculum but we can't set the bar higher for core curriculum areas? There is, of course, an irony here: Without the very fundamentals of math, the energy industry with its reliance on engineering and chemistry simply wouldn't exist. They go hand-in-hand.

That's why it's puzzling the Senate can put such an emphasis on one, but not the other.

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