branstadreynoldsandglass
Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, and Education Director Glass listen to Capitol View Elementary students read.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds unveiled their final recommendations on education reform for the Iowa Legislature that convenes next week.  This came after having numerous town halls on their education blueprint and adapting to recommendations that they received.  Key proposals include:

  • Requiring a 3.0 GPA to gain admission into teacher preparation programs – they don’t specify if that is just for the state’s public universities (I have emailed the Department’s communications director, Staci Hupp, to find out).
  • A licensure exam in order to demonstrate content-specific and teaching knowledge.
  • A requirement for teachers to be evaluated annually.  Principals and Superintendents would also be evaluated annually.
  • Widen pathways to alternative teacher licensure with a number of quality assurance checks.
  • Make seniority a minor factor in decide which teachers are laid off when a school district is faced with reducing the workforce.  Annual evaluations based on performance should be the main factor.
  • Establish state task forces to study important long-term issues, such as teacher leadership, compensation and questions about extending the school day or school year.
  • Give all preschool students and enrolled 4-year-olds a kindergarten readiness assessment to determine early literacy and numeracy skills.
  • High school students will take end-of-course exams in core academic areas of algebra, English, science, and U.S. History to make sure they have a solid foundation before they graduate and to better align high school courses to the Iowa Core.
  • All 11th grade students will take a college entrance exam as a way to provide one of the keys needed for postsecondary education.  Phase out the current 11th grade assessment, the Iowa Tests of Educational Development.
  • Eliminate requirements around seat time for academic credit to accommodate school districts that choose to adopt a system of competency-based education, which advances students based on their mastery of subjects.
  • Widen the pathway for starting charter schools by giving the State Board of Education authority to approve charter applications from universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations, as well as, collaborative efforts of all these groups.  Iowa’s current charter school law is restrictive in that it only allows existing school districts to establish charter schools.
  • Give school districts greater flexibility to meet state requirements so that public schools can better apply innovative ideas to improve learning.  School districts would have the same flexibility that charter schools have.

You can read the brief for this here:

Branstad-Reynolds Administration Recommendations for World-Class Schools in Iowa
 

Below is video of Governor Branstad’s, Lt. Governor Reynolds, and Education Director Jason Glass’ remarks and then a Q&A session they had with the press:

 

 

 

 

There are a number of concerns that I have with these legislative recommendations. A while back I was involved in grading the Governor’s blueprint. Unfortunately I don’t see any improvement based on our critique of the blueprint.  Before I briefly share my concerns here are items that I do like:

  • I think raising the bar for state public universities are a good step.  I have zero problems with increasing the GPA requirement.
  • I also don’t mind the concept of a licensure exam. As with anything though, the devil is in the details, so the content of the test would need to be evaluated to determine whether bias is present, especially in the area of content.
  • Teachers should be evaluated every year.  I’m actually surprised that they’re not since I’ve always received an annual evaluation in all of the jobs that I’ve had.  A large part of the problem is likely that it falls to principals and depending on how many teachers they have in the school it may be unrealistic for them to do (which is why the requirement was three years before).
  • Increasing the probationary status of teachers and administrators is a good thing.
  • I like the idea of a statewide parent engagement network.  In the blueprint they hardly mentioned parents at all and they are the chief stakeholders.

Some initial concerns:

  • The devil is in the details – for instance with evaluations, it’s another state mandate upon local school districts and again usurps the authority of school boards.
  • Their charter school recommendation is junk.  In the brief they write, “Employees of charter schools would be considered public employees, and all laws governing public employees (including collective bargaining rights) would apply.  This basically would render any advantages of a charter school meaningless.  This seems especially onerous when you consider that they want to expand charter schools to non-profit organizations as well.
  • If at the state level they dictate educator evaluation, educator nonrenewal and dismissal, as well as, how layoffs are handled what is left for school boards?  Will they not have any policy making ability beyond their physical grounds (and the state has already imposed itself there as well).  The state also take bonding authority away from school boards as they have to ask the state to approve any bonds they want to bring before their community to vote on.  What’s the point of having school boards anymore?  We need to reverse this trend and encourage more local control, not less.
  • They want to continue the Iowa Core, and not only that – they want to expand it to include music, the arts, and P.E.  I want to see the Iowa Core dead, dead, dead.
  • I’m also concerned by the lack of school choice beyond their misguided charter school proposal and public online learning.  Will they support any of NICHE’s priorities this year for instance?
  • The problem with task forces are those who are invited to take part.  Then there is the topic of discussion, things like longer school days and longer school years.  I would suggest that students don’t need longer days.  I would also suggest this is something that should be done at the local level.  If a parent doesn’t like the districts policy regarding this they can open enroll or move.  It’s much harder when it is mandated state-wide.  Also, will this impact private schools?  Homeschoolers?  If Iowans want to have this discussion, have them do it with their school boards.
  • I like the idea of the Iowa Department of Education to issue waivers on their own rules (actually I believe their rules need to be hacked apart as they are often onerous and go beyond state law).  I don’t see how they would have the constitutional authority to waive statute, and the Legislature should not give them the ability to do so.  The Department’s actual authority and power needs to be limited, not expanded.
  • How’s this getting paid for.  So far no specifics.

There’s very little in this proposal for advocates for local control and school choice to be excited about.

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