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Schools chief Balow defends instructional facilitators

Arguing for a more thoughtful approach to “divesting in education,” Wyoming’s top public schools official last week defended the state’s instructional facilitators program.

State Superintendent of Public instruction Jillian Balow said the program has generated positive results for Wyoming students.

The omnibus education bill, passed Friday in the last hours of the 2017 Legislature, will slash the program’s funding by 25 percent in the coming school year, and an additional 25 percent the following school year.

The bill passed late Friday evening, after two months of contentious debate between the House and Senate.

Instructional facilitators function as coaches for teachers. They collaborate with teachers to disseminate educational best practices and look for opportunities to reach students more effectively.

Wyoming is one of only four states that explicitly provide resources for instructional facilitators, according to an audit of the school funding model prepared for the 2015 Legislature by the consulting firm Picus Odden & Associates. Elsewhere, research has shown significant benefit to students as a result of instructional facilitators, the audit said.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow supports facilitators who help teachers teach, but legislators targeted them for reductions. The debate about schooling continues as Wyoming seeks to compensate for a dip in fossil fuel revenues. (Wyoming Department of Education)

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow supports facilitators who help teachers teach, but legislators targeted them for reductions. The debate about schooling continues as Wyoming seeks to compensate for a dip in fossil fuel revenues. (Wyoming Department of Education)

Even with the mandated cuts, districts that value their instructional facilitator programs will be able to preserve them if they can divert money from somewhere else, said Ken Decaria, the government relations director for the Wyoming Education Association. Overall the Legislature is demanding a $34 million cut for the 2017-2018 school year, which comes on top of a $6 million cut in the last session.

Balow said Wyoming requires that teachers meet an advanced threshold of expertise before they can become an instructional facilitator. They usually come up through the Wyoming school system as teachers first.

“That is a strength of instructional facilitators because they’re already familiar with the culture of Wyoming education, if not the culture of a particular school,” she said.

Investing in instructional facilitators is an example of the careful decisions the Legislature made when mineral revenues were good, Balow said. She called the investments wise in terms of the quality of choices made, not just the quantity of dollars spent. With mineral revenues down, she said, the state needs to “think as carefully about divesting in education as we did about investing in education.”

Wyoming funds education more equitably across districts, demographics and community sizes than any other state in the nation, the superintendent said. It’s a part of what led the state to rank 7th best in a list put together by Education Week magazine, and above any other state in the West.

The state also scores above national averages in math and reading on the National Assessment for Education Progress, put forth by the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

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Along with the test scores, graduation rates and numbers representing increased engagement in programs for more at-risk students — free and reduced lunches, programs for homeless students and graduation rates on reservation schools — are also all up, she said.

“That data is incredibly compelling and tells us exactly what we need to hear about the investment in education,” Balow said. “We are making a difference and making an education system that positively affects all our students.”

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About the Author

andrew@wyofile.com

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Cheyenne, where he covers the legislature. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com

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