Where Iowa Education Chief Jason Glass is Wrong About Race to the Top and Iowa Core Curriculum



On Tuesday I wrote about Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s newly appointed (yet to be confirmed) Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Jason Glass’ position on mandates.  He responded to my post, and I would like to thank him for his level of engagement.  I did want to provide some pushback on a couple of the things he said in response.

1.  Race To The Top wasn’t a federal mandate only in the fact that states didn’t have to apply, but to apply was to take on federal mandates.

Director Glass said, “it’s important to remember that Race to the Top wasn’t a federal mandate. It was an optional grant program. There was no obligation or "mandate" to participate.”  States were not obligated to participate and some states said, “thanks, but no thanks.”  Texas was one of those states with Governor Rick Perry taking a stand against federal mandates.  Alaska was the other under Governor Sarah Palin’s administration whose position was then maintained by Governor Sean Parnell.  If your state did decide to participate then for a one time grant the state would have to accept national core standards and tests.  Texas and Alaska rightly understand that it would be no good for their states.  I just wished more Governors and State Legislatures followed suit.

The concept of national core curriculum standards and tests are an undemocratic approach to education and it eliminates parents from education policy making.  Let me be clear here – there is no constitutional basis for federal involvement in education – zero, none.  One could the federal government just dispersing funds to states for education isn’t provided there are not strings attached, but there is no such thing as federal money without strings attached.  Texas understood this.  Iowa’s Legislative Democrats and Governor Chet Culver didn’t care when they ramrodded legislation through to make Iowa eligible for the grant.  After all of that Iowa still didn’t receive the money.

The feds understand that for most cash-strapped states you dangle money out in front of them, they’ll go for it.  Also President Barack Obama said just this week in his State of the Union Address:

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. (emphasis mine)

Even President Obama recognizes that Race to the Top is a top-down mandate.

2.  The Iowa Core Curriculum doesn’t just set standards.

Director Glass said, “On your point regarding the Iowa Core, I think it’s the state’s responsibility to set the bar for schools to achieve and then allow districts to determine how they get there.”  The problem with this is that the Iowa Core does tell districts how to get there.  Not only that, but the curriculum is problematic how it presents certain topics and what it leaves out – it is rife with bias and indoctrination.

Not only that there was hardly any opportunity for educators and citizens to weigh in on its content and direction.  There is a white paper written on the subject and I would encourage Director Glass to read it.  I understand that he is new to his position, but I think he has an understanding of the Iowa Core that isn’t accurate.

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  • Jason Glass

    Hi again Shane,

    As before, I appreciate our exchange and your interest in making Iowa’s schools the best they can be. This is an interest we share. As counter-point to your most recent post, I’d like to respectfully offer these thoughts:

    1. It is an inaccuracy to state that you questioned me about anything. You posted on your blog site without seeking my input or position on any of the points that you made. I simply responded to your posting to clarify my position. To imply that there was some level of question and answer is simply not true. I do appreciate your posting of our exchanges for all to see so the record is straight going forward.

    2. Clearly, you and I have a different definition of “mandate.” The term to me implies an authoritative requirement by law that must be obeyed. Race to the Top, as it was an optional program, cannot then be a mandate. You clearly point out that there were states who did not participate. If this is the case, how then is it a “mandate,” unless you are using a very different definition than how I understand the term?

    Further, I think you are misinterpreting the President’s words to advance your own agenda on this point. To make the point that the President is calling Race to the Top “a mandate” from that statement is, at least in my opinion, a stretch. Again, as the program was optional, it by definition was not “mandated.”

    3. I have made my position on the Iowa Core clear from the very beginning. “I support the work and continued evolution of the Iowa Core.” We can agree it is an imperfect document. However, to paraphrase Voltaire, we should not let perfect become the enemy of good. There are many places we should improve and grow this document. Rather than reduce it to nothing and abandon any attempt at a core and basic set of learning targets for all Iowa kids, we should lean into the work and continue to improve it. Are there places the Iowa Core could be improved? Absolutely – even the most ardent supporters of the Iowa Core will acknowledge this point. A truly democratic process for this document would be to allow the communities of Iowa to weigh in and make the adjustments that are necessary, not abandoning the work altogether on the advisement of one (or some set of) interest groups.

    Thanks again for the opportunity for us to have a respectful dialogue on these two important issues. We may have to “agree to disagree” on these specific issues, but it is important for both of us to show that we can do so in a civil and respectful manner. We both want only the best for Iowa’s kids and I appreciate our exchange.

    Respectfully,

    Jason E. Glass

    • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      Hi Jason,

      First, I apologize about what that first sentence implied. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you and I had a direct conversation. I meant wondered, question in a rhetorical sense, so I will make that edit for future readers. I’m sorry.

      Regarding mandates you and I do have a different opinion of mandates, just as you and I have a difference of opinion about the federal role in education.

      Regarding President Obama, I’d be interested in hearing your take on what he was referring to when he talked about a “top down mandate”? That statement was in the context of talking about Race to the Top. Perhaps he was referring to NCLB? (of which I’m no fan, perhaps we agree on that!)

      Regarding the Iowa Core – I’m glad that you do want to see improvement. I do believe those involved in its passage did Iowans a disservice by not allowing input from the very beginning. I see it as worse than not just being “perfect.” I’m glad that you do want to see public input on revamping however. I trust that will include parents who are the ultimate stakeholders, not just the education community.

      Thanks again for your comment. I too appreciate the interaction and discussion.