Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds gave this week’s press conference for the Branstad/Reynolds administration and the topic was education, which was one of the four priorities outlined by Governor Terry Branstad in his inaugural address.
She discussed the upcoming education summit and announced some additions to the keynote speaker line up that already included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. One of the new additions to speak at the summit this summer is Dr. David Driscoll. Dr. Driscoll was the Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1998-2007.
She brought up Massachusetts’ education reform as something that Iowa can learn from, citing the standards and an assessments that they have implemented. She referred in particular to the exit exam that Massachusetts had to take prior to graduation. She was asked about it again after her prepared remarks and she said, “That’s one of the things we want to take a look at. That’s been very effective in Massachusetts.”
The exit exam taken in Massachusetts is just a tool that has measured outcomes of reform in the commonwealth that began with the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA) was passed. Lt. Governor Reynolds cites the state standards as a model, but I hope she and others in the summit dig deeper than that. It wasn’t primarily the state standards that made an impact in education reform in Massachusetts (the equitable funding provision in the bill played a part as well), but how it was accomplished with further decentralization of education.
The model lately has been for education to become more centralized through national standards and policy goals. President Barack Obama even today expressed his educational wish list. Massachusetts, however, took the opposite approach by going more local. Yes they have state standards, but their were just that – standards, not curriculum (unlike what we see with the Iowa Core Curriculum). In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ the standards development had more than 1500 people involved and went through a greater democratic and transparent process than what we saw in Iowa.
Because of this I do commend Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds for desiring to host town hall meetings prior to the summit that are open to the public. I also appreciate that the summit itself will also be open to the public. I believe that their desire for input into education reform to be “broad based” is a good starting point.
Massachusetts went even further, not only did they keep curriculum decisions local at the school principal level, MERA also required school councils to be set up with members being elected. While each school’s council has a different make-up, MERA did mandate that parents are involved. The school principal then presents curriculum for the school year, as well as, policy issues to the council for feedback. Add that to the fact Massachusetts already has smaller school districts (Boston notwithstanding) which provided greater accountability for local school board members and knowledge of board members’ activity. So MERA took a system that was already very localized and made it even more local.
Is Iowa willing to do the same? We need to look at further decentralization, not just increased standards to effect change with Iowa’s educational system.