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RIDE group paints picture of the future of education

The future of education in Wyoming could be based on “personalized learning”, if the state opts to follow through with the recommendations released last week by the RIDE Education Advisory Group.

Formed by Governor Mark Gordon in 2021, the RIDE (“Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education”) group gathered input from 7000 stakeholders through surveys and held 17 listening sessions in its quest to find the right path forward for education in this state.

The result of this research is a report with two main themes: the need to address “learning outcomes and expectations” and “class content and structure”.

The first of two core recommendations from the report was for more student-centered learning, which involves supporting a student’s progress based on how well they have mastered a topic, rather than how long they have been learning about it.

The overall rhythm of schooling has looked roughly the same for students moving at any speed, for generation after generation. Indeed, the way schools are funded is largely based on enrollment and seat time,” states the report.

“But what if it could be different? What if each student could progress at their own pace, moving forward when they have mastered the material and getting additional time and support on areas of need? What if each school supported each student based on their individual learning needs – the ones who want to run fast, the ones who need intervention to accelerate their learning, and every pace in between.”

Other states have begun moving towards this “competency-based education” approach, according to the RIDE group.

“Information and knowledge are mushrooming,” said the group’s chairman, John Masters. “Our education system – and all within it – cannot merely keep pace, we must lead. To do this requires new instructional thinking and creativity.”

The second core recommendation was to develop career pathways, which in turn would lead to high-skill, high-wage and high-demand employment. This would involve identifying career “clusters”, such as health sciences or manufacturing, and then the related pathways that would allow students to cultivate the skills and credentials they will need to set themselves up for career success.

“Truly implementing these proposals will require relatively fundamental changes to the state’s education system – but those are the changes the public wants,” states the report.

The Advisory Group has recommended that the governor and state superintendent work with the State Board of Education to develop detailed implementation plans for student-centered learning that address definitions of competency that are feasible to implement, hold schools to high standards, offer high-quality preparation and professional development and have an embedded communication strategy to keep the public appraised of what student-centered learning really means.

The group also calls for those entities to work together to define a new set of career pathways, which will require both building capacity and clearing out “barriers to innovation”, the latter of which it says will need to involve the legislature. For example, the Hathaway Scholarship may need to be updated to support students taking advantage of the policy changes.

The report also highlighted two issues of priority: mental health support for students and teachers and early childhood education. Both, says the Advisory Group, are urgent for the overall success of the system.

Regarding mental health, “Wyoming has the nation’s highest teen suicide rate, and does not rate well in other indicators of mental health. The struggles of recent years have highlighted the need for better mental health support for everyone in schools, stronger attention to their mental health needs (which can also be tied to physical health), and better behavioral supports for students,” states the report.

“Simply put, this is a capacity challenge, and more capacity will be needed for schools to be successful.”

For the second issue, the Advisory Group highlighted the importance of “kindergarten readiness”, as the first five years of life are developmentally important and a child’s experiences can influence their long-term outcomes.

“Wyoming has outstanding educators and schools, along with committed parents and businesses who care about education,” Gordon said on announcing the report’s completion.

“These recommendations were developed collaboratively to help highlight ways to build on our existing strengths. Key to this review is the belief that Wyoming should never be afraid to embrace innovative, personalized approaches to ensure all students are prepared to continue their educational journey or enter the workforce.”