Education reformers will be delighted with the selection of Richard Crandall to the position of director of Wyoming's Department of Education. Not only is he a strong believer in accountability, but he thinks that the biggest question facing the state is why Wyoming, which one of the top education spenders in the country, isn't similarly highly-ranked in student performance.
According to the Associated Press, Crandall will find it easy to work with state lawmakers who have been experimenting for the past five years with accountability systems that will rank schools, teachers and administrators based on the academic performance of their students. To further that effort, Wyoming passed legislation requiring all 11th graders to take the ACT college admissions test and set the student-teacher ratio of K-3 classrooms at 16-to-1. However, no broad teacher assessment measure has yet made it to the governor's desk for a signature though several remain in the pipeline. Pushing one through could be one of the first tasks to which Crandall could apply himself.
The Education Department is a key player in implementing the reforms. It is one of the reasons why the Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead decided to enact a law replacing the statewide superintendent of public instruction with a director appointed by the governor. The idea was to take the agency out of the hands of politicians and place it in the hands of an administrator who has a better understanding of complicated education issues.
Crandall, who took over the agency Aug. 5, said in a recent interview that implementing Wyoming's education reform will be challenging because it will take time to see results.
However, the state is uniquely positioned to undertake such an effort in part because of its small population and strong support from the Legislature, governor, educators and others, he said.
Crandall stressed that state-level reforms didn't mean that Wyoming would abandon its "keep it local" education philosophy. On the contrary, Crandall strongly believes that such local control could be a great help in holding schools and districts accountable for poor school and teacher performance.
"I promise you, local people will call it out long before we ever have to," Crandall said. "Someone in that community will say, âHey, wait. Why is X city 20 miles from here achieving at this rate, and we're only achieving at this rate?'"