Wyoming Moves to Improve Access to Online Education


The Wyoming Department of Education will be improving distance learning for both traditional students and those enrolled full-time in online programs.

If the state Legislature approves the changes, traditional students would be able to take a course online if it is not offered at their school, and online students would be able to take part in brick-and-mortar classes for subjects like art and music.

The new model was developed by a task force created by the Department of Education under direction from the legislature, and was detailed in a report submitted in October. The group was chaired by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Their research found that no students used video-conferencing for their courses in the 2014-2015 school year (unpopular because of scheduling complications), and only seven used correspondence courses, but 1,168 took online courses. 1,051 of those were full-time online students, which were those who took more than 50% of their classes online. 46% of full-time respondents said that they would like to have the option to take classes at local schools.

The task force found that 50% of Wyoming’s 48 school districts would benefit from online Advanced Placement courses, additional languages, credit recovery, and higher-level courses for gifted students.

The new models would offer part-time and full-time possibilities, writes Kristine Galloway of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

According to Laurel Ballard, the student/teacher resources team supervisor at the Wyoming Department of Education, any district would be able to submit courses to be approved for the part-time program. Districts would decide what courses to offer, determine the contents of the syllabus, and provide a teacher. Students would be charged a fee for the cost of the online classes, which could be covered by the district or parents. Likewise, students who were online full-time could take classes at local schools for a fee.

The report also recommended that the state creates a seat-time equivalency system to measure how much time a student spends on online courses to better control state funding. The current system, in which students are considered to be a part of the district where their online schools are located, would also be scrapped in favor of a system that more accurately represents the demographics of each district.

Lastly, the task force recommended the creation of a committee to supervise Wyoming’s virtual education system.

The report concluded:

Knowing virtual education has the potential to serve students in circumstances where we may otherwise be unable to reach them, the task force understands the importance of an effective program being in place in order to reach as many learners as possible. Keeping this and the inevitable continuous changes of technology in mind, the task force strongly recommends a committee be formed to continue the work of improving virtual education on an ongoing basis and provide for a new agility in meeting the virtual education system demands.

The report will be presented to the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration on November 16, reports the Associated Press.