Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds and Education Director Jason Glass at Capitol View Elementary

Governor Terry Branstad recently introduced a Education Reform Bill in the Iowa House (HSB 517) and in the Iowa Senate (SSB 3009) (both versions are practically identical).  I have read through the House version, and I wanted to point out some of the details within the bill that concern me.  I won’t put it mildly – I believe this is, as written, a horrible bill.  It effectively kills all semblance of local control and expands the Department of Education’s reaching into Iowa’s nonpublic schools.

  • On page two the Iowa Department of Education is instructed to expand the Iowa Core Curriculum to include (but not limited to) subjects such as:  music and other fine arts, applied arts, foreign languages, physical education, character education, and entrepreneurship education.  Concerns about the Iowa Core Curriculum have been well documented, albeit ignored, by the Branstad administration.
  • There is the creation of an Iowa Core Curriculum Advisory Council – will they make sure an accredited nonpublic school representative is included?
  • On page 4 in HSB 517 it discusses the creation of a Parent Advocacy Network.  Again there is no mention of non-public school membership, and local schools can select their own parent.  So in reality this will really be a fan club for public schools, not a measure for accountability.
  • On page 5, line 19 accredited non-public schools are mandated to use the state’s evaluation system for teachers (teachers and administrators are to be evaluated every year).  It provides for an exception, but only for public schools (page 6, line 13).
  • Pg. 13-14 – Allows for educational standards waivers by the Director of the Department of Education and lists the criteria: .  Public schools can apply for waivers for kindergarten – 12th grade, nonpublic schools can only apply for waivers for grades 9-12. Why?
  • On pg. 15 we have the creation of an “Educator Identifying System” and “Educational Placement Clearinghouse.” Accredited nonpublic schools are required to submit their job openings to the Department of Education to be listed in their “Education Placement Clearinghouse.”   Applicants (even for accredited non-public schools) shall apply using this clearinghouse (pg. 18, line 11).  This creates a universal job application that will also apply to nonpublic schools.
  • Pg. 16, line 23 – Nonpublic schools are not mentioned as being provided protections allowed with this new “Educator Identifying System.”
  • On pg. 18, line 11 applicants are required to apply through the Department’s clearinghouse.  Only applicants who apply through this process will be eligible for an interview (line 18).  So the Department of Education will determine eligibility even for nonpublic schools.
  • School districts, AEAs, charter schools and accredited nonpublic schools are not allowed to collect information from candidates that has been provided for the clearinghouse, (pg. 18, line 30).
  • Pg. 27, line 31 and following outlines the creation of a Board of Educational Examiners.  Do we really need another layer of bureaucracy?  Why isn’t the current method of revoking licenses, etc. not acceptable.  Maybe it is needed.  However here is a larger concern of the 12 members on this board, only two are appointed from the general public and one of those has to have served on a local school board.  Nine have to be “licensed practitioners” and then the Director of the Department of Education and the director’s designee.  Talk about stacked… this reminds me of the judicial nomination commissions.
  • Page 43, line 35 states foreign language teacher must be “native.” Why limit to native when some Iowans may have worked for years as translator in corporate world?
  • Pg. 67, line 27 and following they say parents can provide “competent private instruction” except when it comes to teaching your kids to drive.  Ridiculous.
  • Pg. 71-72 mentions the “School Instructional Time Task Force.”  It has to be comprised of no less than seven people  who will be appointed by the Director of the Department of Education and will be appointed in a way to provide for geographical representation.  No guidelines as to the background of these task force members.  No nonpublic school representation is specified.  They will consider length of the school day, minimum number of school days, how the calendar should be structured (shorter summer break or have several breaks), and whether or not there should be a uniform start date.
  • Pg. 72, Line 24 and following requires accredited nonpublic schools to “develop, implement, and file with the department a comprehensive school improvement plan that includes, but is not limited to, demonstrated school, parental, and community involvement in assessing educational needs, compliance with education standards in statute and adopted by rule by the state board, and with student achievement levels, and, as applicable, the consolidation of federal and state planning, goal-setting, and reporting requirements.”  Read Iowa Core and Common Core standards
  • Pg. 74, line 12 allows the Department to take over a school district that is labeled as “persistently failing.”
  • Pg. 74, lines 28-30 requires public and nonpublic schools to administer a college entrance exam.
  • Pg. 75 we have adherence to the Iowa Core Curriculum.  “Adopt a set of core content standards applicable to all students in kindergarten through grade twelve in every school district and accredited nonpublic school.  The core content standards shall include those established in Iowa’s approved 2006 standards and assessment system under Tit. I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq., as amended by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 14 107-110. “
  • I want you to notice the next sentence which is in the current law with no changes planned (the emphasis is mine).  “As changes in federal law or regulation occur, the state board is authorized to amend the core content standards as appropriate.”  Can somebody explain to me what authority Jason Glass and the Iowa Department of Education has aligning the Iowa Core with the common core state standards?  I mean they’ve bent over backwards to tell me these standards aren’t “federal.”  If that is so, what statutory authority do they have to make changes?  None!  By the way, there hasn’t been any changes in federal law or regulation related to standards.  There’s just been the Race to the Top block grants that required adherence to common core state standards in order to become competitive for the grants, and Congress never voted on that.  On top of this they plan to continue making accredited nonpublic schools abide by these standards.
  • Pg. 82, the Iowa Department of Education takes control of all practitioner development.  School districts can only get out of it by a waiver from the Director of the Department of Education.   Not only that in line 29 we see that they will take over all of the funds for it as well.
  • Pg. 97 – school districts may only use a development plan approved by the Director of the Department of Education.
  • P.99-100, blatant discrimination against religious organizations from establishing a charter school.  Other nonprofit organizations are allowed to apply for a charter, but not religious ones?  Interesting, Texas allows them, and there is a legitimate argument that can be made for faith-based charter schools.  Frankly, Iowa doesn’t want to let go of the “public” aspect of charter schools (see pages 101-103, as well as the teachers are considered public school employees who still have collective bargaining “rights,” pg. 112) which makes the program absolutely worthless.
  • Pg. 103, lines 23-26 disallows students receiving “competent private instruction” (homeschooling) from being educated by a charter school.
  • Pg. 126 – We have the establishment of a “core curriculum advisory council” who are appointed by the Director.  They are to make nonbinding recommendations to the Director about the core curriculum.  There is supposed to be a balance on the council by gender and political party.  They consist of seven people who serve at the pleasure of the Director.  Can we read… these are the Director’s “yes men.”  No other guidance on who is selected.
  • Pg. 127 – the “Parent Advisory Network”  – representatives are to be appointed by the school district.  Can we read conflict of interest here?  As it is written this will just be a colossal waste of time.
  • Pg. 127-128 – The establishment of an evaluation method dictated by the Department, those who want to deviate must be granted a waiver.  Here we see the creation of yet another task force.
Summary: This bill continues state government bloat.  It is an overreach into the affairs of nonpublic schools.  The Department of Education takes over state licensure and professional development.  There is a disparity of exceptions allowed between public and nonpublic standards.  The Iowa Core now has teeth, and when it was passed that was something Iowans were promised it would never have.  The Department overreaches into the teacher placement.  Also there is meaningless charter school options, and private school choice is nonexistent in this bill.
Frankly this is a bill I’d expect from a liberal, big government advocate, not a Republican governor.

 

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