I just watched an interview on KCRG-TV 9 in Cedar Rapids, IA with incoming Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Jason Glass.  He sat down with Beth Malicki for her weekly public affairs program called “To The Point.”  You can watch the video below:

This was an interesting discussion mostly focused on the teacher pay reform that Jason Glass helped bring to Eagle County Schools in Colorado and what he is advocating here in Iowa.  For those of you who don’t know most school districts in Iowa are set up on a step and level pay system.   This means each year that a teacher gets under his or her belt their pay increases.  Teachers also have an opportunity to increase their pay through continuing education.  How pay is structured and determined in one primary way to help reform public education from within as 60-80% of a state’s education funding goes toward salaries.  Glass said the current pay system that utilizes education and experience to determine pay is problematic and doesn’t help achieve reform.

The two factors that we are using to allocate this 60-80% of the money we put into education are not actually good measures of good teaching.

He admits that new teachers are usually less effective than experienced teachers, but that levels out after three years.  He said the current pay system creates attrition with new teachers as they start out in most districts in the mid-20s (his words were “barely above poverty rate”).  So new teachers sometimes will leave for higher paying careers.  On the other hand he said another problem is with experienced teachers who perhaps are tired of teaching and want to do something else don’t because the pay level and how retirement is set up beckons them back for another year or two.

So he wants to introduce a merit-based pay system, one that looks at test scores, but is not entirely based on that.  He would like to see a pay system that addresses market labor issues and pay accordingly (like for math and science teachers or special education teachers).

Regarding testing he said that it should see how teachers are helping kids grow, not just how many kids get across the baseline.  He notes that schools that typically don’t test well are usually located in poverty stricken areas.  He said, “If we aren’t going to look at growth we might as well stop testing and just use zip codes.”  A good point.  He also noted that a merit pay system could also reward teachers who decide to teach in schools that are challenging.

Where I started to discern a mixed message in the interview is when he said he wasn’t for state mandates, and when discussing teachers’ pay he said that he doesn’t want the state to impose a merit pay system.  That it should be “done locally, in collaboration with teachers.”

That’s great.  I think local school boards, school districts and the parents they serve should have more control.

I’m not so sure we are on the same page with this though.  Because in the same interview he said he hoped there would be another opportunity for federal funding like the Race to the Top funds.  He said whatever you think of President Barack Obama and his educational policies we have to admit that Race to the Top “spurred a lot of innovation.”  Actually I don’t have to admit that, in Iowa it was our General Assembly ramrodding through a bill without hardly any debate in order to kowtow to federal demands.

So he isn’t for state mandates, but he is for federal ones?  At least ones that bring cash and “spur innovation”?

I also wonder why he doesn’t want the state to impose a pay system, but I learned that he told a group of Central Iowa School Superintendents recently that he is in favor of the Iowa Core Curriculum (a state mandate) and said alluded that he had convinced Governor Terry Branstad and some Republican legislators not to pursue its repeal.  He did say he wants it “to evolve” and improve.

Again which is it?  No mandates or mandates?  No mandates for pay, but mandates for curriculum policy?

During the interview there was no discussion of school choice as one avenue of reform.  Not blaming him for that as that wasn’t the direction the interviewer was going.  We still have much to learn about Jason Glass, and hopefully these questions will be asked during his Senate confirmation.

4 comments
  1. Hi Shane,

    Actually, 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. It offered unprecedented amounts of federal education dollars in exchange for states making bold plans to improve educator quality and student achievement. Every state could decide if they wanted to make the effort, or not. I can’t speak to how the politics of it played out here, I wasn’t working in the state at that time. But to characterize it as a federal mandate isn’t accurate.

    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 development and continued evolution of the Iowa Core and the inclusion of the Common Core is part of that effort. Rarely do we get to be purely “local control” or purely “state mandated.” I think good policy is actually a reasonable blend of both. In the case of new strategic compensation systems, while we have several districts around the country who are innovating in that space, it’s an innovation that’s still very much in the learning phase. Given that, it would be unwise (at least in my estimation) to “mandate” that.

    On other issues “mandating” is important and necessary. For example, we should mandate that kids get a quality education regardless of race, gender, economic background, or disability. We should “mandate” that schools protect student data. We set ourselves up in a false policy dichotomy when we say it has to be one or the other. There are times when we should use mandates, and there are times when we should spur innovation. We should use prudence and wisdom in deciding which and work hard to avoid politicizing the issue.

    In the future, you don’t have to wonder anything about what I think – just ask me. My email is [email protected] and my twitter handle is jasonglassIA. I look forward to continuing our conversation and thanks for engaging in the discussion on how we can improve Iowa’s schools.

    Thanks again!

    Jason Glass

    1. Thanks for dropping by to comment and for your explanation. I can’t say I agree with your assessment of Race to the Top. President Obama in his SOTU address said, “we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate.” He did say it was developed by Governors, but I’d encourage you to read this white paper – http://www.preserveinnocence.org/docs/Innocence%20Report%2007-10.pdf.

      Again, thanks for your comments. I’ll put this up in a separate post so more people will have a chance to read it.

      1. Hi again Shane,

        I appreciate the opportunity to have a discussion. The most important thing education needs at this moment is more honest and respectful exchange, like this! We may not always agree on the most important issues and what tactics we should take, but we should all agree that there are places we can get better. Working to find those places where we can stand together is a good starting point for a transformational movement.

        Thanks again, and please let me know if I can ever be of service.

        JG

    2. Another thought – you are right to point out that states didn’t have to participate. What I didn’t care for, and I realize you weren’t part of the process, was how changes were pushed through the General Assembly without public comment – Governor Culver already had a signing ceremony scheduled before the session even began.

      I’m generally not a fan of federal money with strings attached, and frankly don’t see a federal role in education in the Constitution Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from.

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