By State Senator Paul McKinley – Iowa Senate Republican Leader
School may be out for the summer but that does not mean it is time to take a vacation from discussing ways we can better prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders. A vibrant future rests with having a well educated public that has the skills to keep our economy prosperous, our communities thriving and our families healthy.
When lots of politicians talk about education, often their only solutions are to keep following the same status quo path. They just talk about spending more money, growing the size of the bureaucracy, adding more mandates to local schools and further empowering union bosses.
In Iowa, that path has not produced the results our children deserve.
Today, 20 to 25 percent of our students are one year or more below grade level. This drastic change in direction is one of the leading reasons why our eighth graders in 1993 were first in mathematics but have now fallen to 28th. The 2008 Iowa Condition of Education Report shows student proficiency has decreased over the past year in fourth grade reading, fourth grade math, eleventh grade reading and eleventh grade math.
Simply spending more money without real reform is not the answer. Iowa already spends approximately $4 billion on education – nearly two-thirds of the state’s budget – on education. Since 2001, per pupil funding has increased by 50 percent. We have spent billions of dollars and yet student achievement has stagnated and in many instances declined.
This is unacceptable. That is why Senate Republicans have offered a fresh alternative.
First and foremost, we need to properly re-establish the definition of education. Iowa has a proud educational heritage because we have already made it about preparing our students to achieve success and be productive citizens. We believe education should be about achievement and teaching our children the necessary skills they need to successfully compete in the global marketplace.
On one hand, parents, employers and community leaders agree the purpose of education is to develop and prepare students to be productive citizens and possess the skills and knowledge to compete in the global marketplace. On the other hand, the elite educational establishment fosters the notion the purpose of education is to promote equality, diversity, social justice and self-esteem. Sadly, educating our children is no longer necessarily an academic endeavor – it often seems more of a social experiment. Education must be about academics and teaching our students the skills they need to succeed.
Secondly, we must concentrate on the fundamentals again. We do not believe we need to re-invent the wheel. Oftentimes we are just moving our students through our system before they have learned the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and science while our establishment elite instead chases after fads and gimmicks derived from a wayward social agenda. It is troubling that Governor Culver and legislative Democrats would rather concentrate on bullying legislation or mandating how much a child should exercise a day instead of concentrating on the fundamental skills that our students need to achieve success in this global economy.
Next, we believe our students will respond to heightened expectations if we challenge them. There are many examples where children in Asian countries or in India are learning calculus in junior high while students in Iowa may not learn it until high school and college – or worse yet – never at all. We are experiencing a an international achievement gap and we must aspire to take the steps necessary to close it. We believe students will respond to the challenge if we provide them with world-class standards, ambitious benchmarks and a rigorous curriculum grounded in the fundamentals of reading, writing, math, science, history and civics.
Governor Culver and legislative Democrats have approached academic standards by prescribing a one-size-fits-all, top-down, experiment on our students and teachers. Attempts to create a statewide “core curriculum” have limited the flexibility of local teachers, parents and school boards.
Lastly, we believe we need more accountability and transparency. Everyone must be accountable for the success of our students. Though these children may be students today, we will be relying on them to be the leaders of tomorrow. Students, parents, schools, colleges of education and policymakers all need to be held accountable. We need to pay our good teachers well and weed out those who are not meeting the necessary standards.
When we get back to the basics, we will again be able to put our students first by preparing them to be productive citizens who possess the necessary skills and knowledge to compete with any one else in the world.