imageThe Iowa Department of Education released a 28 page report today detailing the state of education in Iowa.

It’s dismal.  You can’t deny the facts presented – especially with reading and the achievement gap with students with disabilities.  I fully agree with Jason Glass, the State Director of the Iowa Department of Education, when he said in the report, “The persistence and size of the achievement gap for students with disabilities in Iowa is not just embarrassing—it is intolerable.”

It is intolerable.  While we all agree that education in Iowa needs improvement there is much disagreement on how we got there and the way forward.

The report in discussing the past mentions several things I find interesting:

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) approved by Congress in 2001. NCLB was signed into law in 2002, holds schools accountable for student achievement levels and imposes penalties for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward meeting the goals of NCLB. Iowa adopted accountability measures aligned with the goals of NCLB.

The Iowa Teaching Standards developed and adopted by the State Board of Education in 2002. The Iowa Standards for School Leaders followed in 2008. These initiatives gave districts new, evidence-based models for quality teaching methods.

The Iowa Core contains essential concepts and skills in English/language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics, as well as 21st century skills in financial literacy, health literacy, and other key areas. The Iowa Core represents the state’s work to set high expectations for all students. Setting these statewide expectations was an important step for Iowa toward becoming an education “system” as opposed to a loose confederation of school districts.

While this certainly isn’t the only reason for the decline, but one can’t help but notice that while Iowa decline has occurred congruently with a movement toward centralization – No Child Left Behind, The Iowa Teaching Standards, and The Iowa Core (I also find it interesting that they dropped “curriculum” from the title and are just calling it “The Iowa Core.”)

Contrast that with Massachusetts who has seen student achievement improve and they have become more localized.  Has Iowa moving toward “becoming an education ‘system’ as opposed to a loose confederation of school districts” really been a good thing?  Wasn’t Iowa that loose confederation when they ranked #1 in education?  Granted changes in culture, a sense of entitlement, among other problems have contributed to the decline, but how has centralization helped?  What empirical data can they show?  None.

The way forward… the #1 suggestion made in the report is to have “clear standards with high expectations and accountability for results.”  Ok, who sets the standards?  Who provides the accountability?  Based on the current trajectory we can guess… educrats at the state and federal level.  Already the Iowa State Board of Education is aligning the “Iowa Core” with national common core standards.  The fact that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is making an appearance at the upcoming education summit next week shouldn’t be lost on us either.

It would seem that the current approach, when it comes to centralization, fits the definition of insanity quite well, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You can read the report below:

Iowa Rising to Greatness 082111

Originally published at American Principles in Action.

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