It may be hard to believe, but summer is unofficially over.
Teachers, staff and students – from our home schools, private schools and public schools to our colleges and universities are all commencing classes and after-school sports and activities again.
As students and parents settle back into their school year routines, they do so with the backdrop of a growing debate in Iowa about the future of Iowa education.
Though most Iowans are proud of their local schools because we have a stellar educational heritage, we must not let pride blind us from the reality that we have allowed our state standards, expectations, and accountability measures to slip dramatically.
Over the past decade, Iowa’s standing in education has stagnated or diminished significantly compared to the rest of the country. Simultaneously, we have spent billions of dollars on an annual basis and yet have not achieved the results our students deserve and parents and taxpayers expect.
As an end result, we are leaving our students at a growing disadvantage in this increasingly more competitive global marketplace.
However, momentum is starting to build toward reforming education in Iowa and recapturing our status as the worldwide – not just nationwide – leader in education.
But in order to be successful in our mission and actually make the real and necessary reforms in education, we must operate from a common understanding of principles.
Chief among them is getting back to the basics.
It may sound simple, but doing so would begin to make a substantial positive difference.
Too often our elite education establishment – the education theorists, teachers’ colleges, union bosses, education bureaucrats and high priced consultants – believe the purpose of education is to foster equality, diversity, social justice and self-esteem.
As those concepts have been increasingly pushed on to our kids in our schools, we have lost focus on what really matters: spending all of our precious classroom time on reading, writing, math, science, history and civics (this is not an exclusive list, of course).
Too often, we are just moving our students through the system before they have learned the fundamentals while our establishment elite instead promote an increasingly provocative and controversial social agenda.
But it isn’t just about getting back to the basic curriculum areas – it is also about putting an end to the chasing of every fad and gimmick.
As Iowans, we have spent hundreds of millions of new dollars promoting class size reduction or adding technology in our classroom without a focused plan of implementing it. Iowa taxpayers have made this significant financial investment – because that’s what the education elite said we must do – and yet their predictions of widespread improved academic achievement have fallen considerably below the promises that were made.
Let’s instead get back to setting high standards and expectations for our students and challenge them to reach their fullest potential. We believe students will rise 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. We will know if it is working if we use nationally renowned measurements such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
It’s time we get back to the basics by empowering local school districts to take responsibility and have superintendents and principals once again working for the local school board and making local management decisions that will make the most sense for the students, the personnel and the district as a whole. Superintendents and principals should be held responsible for improved student achievement but we should also give them the authority and latitude to make the best possible management decisions – instead of constantly tying their hands with more mandates from D.C. and Des Moines or demands from union bosses.
The bottom line is that everyone must be accountable for the success of our children. Students, parents, teachers, community leaders, schools, colleges of education and policymakers all need to be held accountable.
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 anyone else in the world.
That should be the outcome all of us want for our kids and we should accept nothing less.
State Senator Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) is the Iowa Senate Minority Leader