Iowa’s Myopic Vision for Education Reform

imageLast week, Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, and Linda Fandel, Governor Terry Branstad’s Special Assistant for Education, rolled out their vision for education reform.  The Des Moines Register highlighted the key points.

  • Adopting a four-tiered salary system that would include apprentice, career, mentor and master teachers, instead of basing pay on experience and college credits earned.
  • Handling layoffs in districts by considering teacher credentials and school needs, rather than using a “last in, first out” procedure.
  • Continuing to refine the Iowa Core, which outlines expectations for what students should know at each grade level.
  • Expanding the presence of charter schools.
  • Requiring that all 11th-graders take the ACT college entrance exam and that all students take a high school exit exam.

I have supported Glass’ desire to change up the step-and-level pay that most (if not all) school districts in Iowa use.  I believe merit pay is the better way to go as it provides incentives for growth in the teaching profession and to work toward results.

However, the devil is in the details so to speak, Glass proposes starting apprentice teachers at $40,000/year.  I suppose that is on top of their salary.  A 22-year-old with zero experience making $40,000/year.  Yes I know there are plenty of jobs that start college graduates out at far more than that.  A couple points to make.  First, It isn’t that I don’t believe some new teachers are worth that kind of salary.  I do.  However this speaks to a local control issue once again.  Do I think every new teacher in the state of Iowa needs to be making that much money?  No, some districts provide a greater challenge than others.  Some schools have greater class sizes, etc.  How will this be paid for will the school district continue to pay the same amount they are paying or will the state completely augment the difference?  How will that get paid for?  If the state doesn’t increase their aid they’re again imposing their will on local school districts some who may not be able to afford paying teachers that much.

Which leads me to my second point; college graduates in other fields go into the private sector which is largely for-profit.  If a company chooses to pay their new employees at a higher rate it comes out of their profits.  If a school chooses to pay their teachers more; then we as taxpayers pick up the tab.  I understand that some teachers are poorly paid, but when you choose to teach you choose to enter public service and you’re not going to get rich.  I’ve seen pay scales for numerous school districts, and quite frankly if you’re a teacher (especially in a large district) for a number of years you are getting paid pretty well.  Then include the fact that teachers typically work only 9 1/2 – 10 months out of the year.

I know somebody out there will say, “but Shane, It’s for the children.”  Well last time I checked DHS caseworkers, youth service workers in juvenile placements and juvenile court officers also work with children, work year round and work wit the most challenging kids.  Some get paid pretty well, but not when they’re just starting out.  Anyway, talk about increases sure, but have a plan to pay for it and tailor it by district.

Then there’s the fact that we spend hand over fist on education, and there are several countries who spend far less per student than we do yet perform better.  Private schools tend to pay their teachers less, and yet their students by and large perform better.  Then you look at homeschoolers, anyway if you look at the problem objectively you’ll see that teacher pay isn’t really the problem.

I think handling layoffs in the way Glass and Fandel suggest makes sense.  I’m not a fan of the Iowa Core, and currently it appears that “refining” means aligning the Iowa Core with the Common Core State Standards.  This I believe and have said on numerous occasions that takes a bad situation and makes it worse.  I won’t belabor the point.

Expanding the presence of charter schools.  I’m not going to knock charter schools and I think they can be extremely effective.  However charter schools alone can not be the answer.  All venues for education must be explored.  Private schools, home schools, and online education should be part of the solution to true education reform.

Regarding the ACT test for juniors and having an exit exam prior to graduation, the inherent danger is teaching to the test which I believe would make classroom instruction even worse.  That coupled with the Iowa Core usurps local control.

A good discussion starter, but far from finished.

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