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Wisconsin works to develop initiatives to improve education

Falcon News Service

November 30, 2016

It’s no secret that the United States has fallen behind many other developed nations when it comes to education. However, Wisconsin has developed initiatives to help the country get back on top.

Mark Tyler, a current UW-System Board of Regents member, said that there are three key programs and initiatives that have been developed to help do so.

One is called Forward2020, developed through a series of collaborative work between system administrators and various educational stakeholders. According to the Board of Regents website, the program is aimed at creating a stronger “educational pipeline.” Tyler explained this as meaning students need more opportunities throughout their school experience, at all levels of education, as well as fostering better connections between the university and college systems and the job force.

“The main thing is to increase the pipeline of grads, and secondly to connect more fully with employers and universities through internships, job shadows, all that work experience,” Tyler said. “Lots of data shows that work experience demonstrates that connecting with employers while you’re still in the educational experience really drives that attainment outcome. People that do internships and such actually graduate at a higher level, too.”

Another standard of the initiative will be to “create a dynamic learning experience,” as UW-System President Ray Cross said in a promotional video on the system website. To Tyler, this means making sure that what goes on in the classroom will be relevant to a student’s life after graduation.

“Too often, the university is accused of not being relevant, which I don’t think is true, but it’s more or less true depending on the program,” Tyler said. “This idea is based on good data where there’s employers involved with the education process, and when professors are involved with employers; we’re essentially trying to create an educational process that’s relevant,” he said.

He talked about this idea in terms of STEM professions. If students aren’t being prepared with the classes they need, their degrees will be much less valuable.

“If you look at engineering, accounting, IT departments, those areas are very, very engaged and dynamic and curriculum changed real quickly to meet the needs of the economy and students as best as possible,” Tyler said. “Some areas aren’t as engaged in real solid preparation, but President Cross is trying to make that dynamic environment across the board in all areas of study.

Secondly, another program being implemented across the state is called “Academic and Career Planning” is being instituted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and will focus mostly on students in grades 6-12. It has been used at about 25 school districts so far throughout the state, and will become a statewide policy in the fall of the 2017-18 school year.

“One of the challenges with attainment at the postsecondary level is preparation,” Tyler said. “This program, ACP, is taking care of students as they come through elementary and secondary education, so that they’re prepared at a level where they can be successful in their academic career, whether that’s academic or technical.”

For students in the lowest grade levels of the program, focus on career obviously won’t be the focus, but will be more exploratory, Tyler said.

“How many college freshman or sophomores know what they’re gonna do? In sixth grade it’s about exploring, who you are and what you’re good at, what you like to do. Once you’re in ninth grade then, you might start thinking about more focused paths. As you move through the process, if you think you might be interested in healthcare, IT, or engineering, if you’re not signing up for science and math, you’re already in trouble. So we’re trying to get students a head start earlier.”

“My belief is that, as time goes on, that will become the model for making sure that students are fully prepared so there’s no need for remediation,” Tyler added.

This program is already being implemented. Tyler said that there are already 16 members at educational locations throughout the state prepping for the full rolling out of the program.

These initiatives come after the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-located foundation that focuses on expanding access to education, put out a report about the state of education in each state. The report for Wisconsin lays out a few points that Tyler suggests are being remedied by these two programs and more that are to come.

Tyler also said that it’s likely the state will adopt a policy focused on achieving statewide attainment goals by fostering collaborative work between the UW-System, public elementary and secondary education and technical colleges. Tyler said that he thinks such a proposal could likely be on the agenda at the next Board of Regents meeting.

“Ten years ago, if you’d asked these three institutions to even have a conversation, you’d have gotten nowhere,” Tyler said. “Now we work hand-in-hand, along with the K-12 system. I would fully expect to see a statewide goal set for attainment.”

However, he said he does think much progress has been made, and that many facets of educational achievement are being addressed that hadn’t before.

“There are so many facets to look at. You have to be talking about things like nutrition and access and things politicians don’t usually like to talk about, but are really important for child and student growth,” Tyler said. “Wisconsin now probably has a more systemic solution to building an educational pipeline than most states. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 10 years.”