Jason Glass, EdD
Director of the Iowa Department of Education

Last week I provided a critique to the Iowa Department of Education’s annual report.  Jason Glass, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, was kind enough to leave a comment in order to dialogue with me.  I want to include his comment in full below and then provide a response to a few of his points.

Hi Shane –

I always appreciate your point of view.

Three points to set the record straight from the get-go…

1. The department is not simply advocating for more assessments in this report. We are advocating that formative assessments be used to determine where students are struggling in learning and that instruction adapt accordingly. You are generally confused about “Response to Intervention,” something I will address in a moment.

2. Regarding the Iowa Core, our positions on this are pretty well staked out and I respect your view. However, your statement that there is no evidence or field testing around core standards is off-base. Educators have been developing and implementing standards for nearly 100 years, much of this done at the state level. The common core is simply a scaling of this well-defined and refined effort. Virtually all high performing systems in the world have a well defined, high quality set of expectations that instruction and assessments are aligned with. None of them arrived at high quality and low variability levels of performance using the sort of “let a thousand flowers bloom” local control model for standards your (sic) espouse. You should visit some of our 348 school districts and see if they uniformly have the capacity to develop internationally benchmarked standards and curriculum. Let me spoil it for you – most of them don’t. If you want more varied performance, opt for gonzo local control on this point. You are letting your ideology get ahead of pedagogy. Good for politics – bad for kids.

3. A minor point, but “merit pay” (meaning a simplistic cash-for-test-scores scheme) was never in our education reform plan and never will be.

Now on RtI. You are mistaken that RtI is an assessment program. RtI stands for “Response to Intervention” and is, at its core, a high reliability method (or procedure) that relies on the following basic parts:

a) Using high-quality and proven core instructional approach for all students
b) Using a formative assessment (which can be classroom-based) to determine if the core instructional approach is working
c) Applying student-specific interventions, differentiated to each kid
d) Checking (using formative measures again) to see if the intervention is working and further adapting the instruction if it is not.

Schools that are effective at closing the achievement gap all apply some version of this procedure. Internationally, this method is at the core of the instructional approaches used in Finland and other high performing systems.

I’d be happy to set up some visits in Iowa where this is already being used with fidelity and having an impact. It might be constructive for you to see, experience, and learn more about this before you opine further.

On a more personal note, a happy Thanksgiving to you and your family – I look forward to reading your response.

Regarding his first point… perhaps I did oversimplify what they were trying to accomplish.  That certainly wasn’t intentional, and is easy to do when you’re trying to provide a summary and commentary on a report.  My post wasn’t meant to be a white paper, nor do I have time to write one.

What he doesn’t say is dispute that they are advocating for more assessments.  They are.  You can see this in a chart they provided in the report:


Will they be doing activities beyond assessments?  Sure, but there will be an increase in assessments.  Assessments are not all bad, but my concern is that I’d hate to see content and instruction time driven by them.  These will be in addition to the testing required by Iowa’s involvement with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition something Jason didn’t mention in his comments.

Secondly, his statement about there being evidence and field testing around core standards.  If he’s talking state standards and standards in other countries I’d agree with that.  With the Common Core State Standards – in particular the ELA and Math standards that are currently being implemented this year that is not true.  That isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of numerous education experts across the country.

For instance liberal education historian Diane Ravitch (I’m not a fan by the way who is agnostic on the Common Core) noted they haven’t been field tested.  Common Core advocate Kathleen Porter-Magee defended why they can’t really be field-tested.  I disagree with her post, but she at least admits that what Ravitch and others have been saying is true – they haven’t been field tested.

Now they have been evaluated, but unfortunately the evaluation was funded from the same source that is also funding their development.  I’m sure Jason can agree there is a conflict of interest here.  I’m not going to go down a conspiracy rabbit hole, but it would have been better for an independent evaluation to have been done.

Beyond that what do others have to say about the Common Core?

The Brookings Institute released a report and they said, “Don’t let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.” Brookings isn’t by the way a conservative ally.  They are a liberal think tank so there is bipartisan opposition against the Common Core.

Professional Educators of Tennessee provided a primer that had various statements made by education leaders and experts:

Critic Alfie Kohn, the author of a dozen books on education and human behavior, states “uniformity isn’t the same thing as excellence; high standards don’t require common standards. And neither does uniformity promote equity.”

Sandra Stotsky a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas takes a different approach, but reaches a similar conclusion:   “The Common Core standards may accomplish the  goal of equalizing education but not in a way the supporters initially hoped: they may lead to more uniformly mediocre student achievement than we now have. The national system is unlikely to accomplish the aim of raising academic achievement because it may reduce the number of high school students taking advanced mathematics and science courses in our high schools and make us much less competitive internationally than we now are.”

Neal P. McCluskey is the associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute and the author of “Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples and Compromises American Education” adds: “If anything, national standards will make this intolerable situation worse, pushing accountability-gutting forces up from 50 statehouses and focusing them all on Washington.”

Bruce Fuller is professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, suggested: “standards threaten to further routinize pedagogy, filling students with bits of reified knowledge — leaving behind the essence, the humanistic genius of liberal learning.” Then Fuller points out: “The strange thing in all this is that the political left is now preaching the virtues of systems, uniformity and sacred knowledge. Lost are the virtues of liberal learning, going back to the Enlightenment when progressives first nudged educators to nurture in children a sense of curiosity and how to question dominant doctrine persuasively.”

Regarding Jason’s dig at local control, a recap… he said:

None of them arrived at high quality and low variability levels of performance using the sort of “let a thousand flowers bloom” local control model for standards your (sic) espouse. You should visit some of our 348 school districts and see if they uniformly have the capacity to develop internationally benchmarked standards and curriculum. Let me spoil it for you – most of them don’t. If you want more varied performance, opt for gonzo local control on this point. You are letting your ideology get ahead of pedagogy. Good for politics – bad for kids.

For starters of course we’re not going to see other nations have a system such as ours.  Our federal system is pretty unique as most countries have started with centralized control.  We did not and for good reason.  Jason misses the overarching point of my local control argument.  Involve the stakeholders.  Nowhere in his comment does he mention parents.  The Iowa Core was ramrodded down our throats with little discussion.  Let me share a little secret with you.  I don’t have a big problem with state standards – provided they are just that – standards and ones that had lots of input at the local level.

If they didn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy but provide a guide we’d be good – provided the standards were good.  The Iowa Core pre-Common Core left a lot to be desired.  At the very least I can say the Iowa Legislature weighed in and the Governor Culver signed it into law.

Jason, the Iowa Department of Education and Governor Branstad want to go beyond standards further centralize education.  This further marginalizes parents who are the ones who are ultimately responsible for a child’s education.  I hope we can agree on that.  That’s why I’m in favor of local control.  Because I believe problems are best solved locally.  Does that mean they don’t ever need assistance or that school boards always get it right?  Absolutely not, but there is a far cry from providing assistance to providing mandates.

Now as far as the Common Core State Standards go – no state legislature, including Iowa’s, have had the opportunity to vote on these.  States have been coerced into adopting these whether it was through Race to the Top or via the No Child Left Behind waivers.  Even outgoing Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, who is a Common Core advocate said they had been taken over by the Federal government.

It is easy to dismiss my arguments as being ideological, but Jason, I’m sorry I think the process is just as important as the product.  The Constitution gives the Federal government no role in education.  There wasn’t any consideration of the legal aspects of the Common Core State Standards.  There was little consideration given to the cost of its implementation to the states and municipalities.  So while it isn’t my only objection to the Common Core it is one of my primary ones.

Then I have to ask if these standards were so great why couldn’t we have a state by state debate and discussion about them.  It would have been awesome to be able to have that discussion before they were approved and implemented.

Regarding RTI I conceded that is is more than assessments, but it include more assessments.  It may be a great model.  How about offering it as a model for local school districts to use voluntarily if they like instead of mandating that they follow it?  I know that’s just my silly local control argument cropping up again.

Anyway Jason I appreciate the dialogue.  I’ll be curious what legislation is introduced by Governor Branstad for this upcoming session.

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