Iowa State Capitol

There are two versions of Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform bill.  A conference committee has been formed between the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate in order to work out the differences.  The members assigned are:

Iowa Senate Members:

Iowa House Members:

There are several issues facing the conference committee beyond fiscal issues that most media seems to be focused on.

Common Core Assessments

HF 215 I noted on Iowans for Local Control has a provision (snuck through as an amendment to an amendment) in it that gives the Iowa Department of Education authority to mandate a different assessment (from what is already required by state law) on local school districts.  While they don’t say it in so many words this is to pave the way for the Smarter Balanced Assessments.  There had to be a change in the Iowa Code before these could be implemented.  This was added to the original bill as an amendment to an amendment.

Here is the language (starts on line 30-3):

Annually, the department shall report state data for each indicator in the condition of education report. Rules adopted pursuant to this subsection shall specify that the approved district=wide assessment of student progress administered for purposes of this paragraph the indicators shall be the assessment utilized by school districts statewide in the school year beginning July 1, 2011, or a successor assessment administered by the same assessment provider.   (2) Notwithstanding subparagraph (1), for the school year beginning July 1, 2014, and each succeeding school year, the rules shall provide that all students enrolled in school districts in grades three through eleven shall, within forty=five days of the end of the school year, be  administered an assessment that at a minimum assesses the indicators identified in this paragraph “b”; is aligned with the Iowa common core standards in both content and rigor; is developed by a consortium in which the state of Iowa is a participant; accurately describes student achievement and growth for purposes of the school, the school district, and  state accountability systems; and provides valid, reliable, and fair measures of student progress toward college or career readiness.  (3) The director shall establish a task force to review and assist with the final development and implementation of the assessment specified in subparagraph (2). The task force members shall include but not be limited to teachers, school administrators, business leaders, representatives of state agencies, and members of the general public. This subparagraph  is repealed July 1, 2015.

Allowing this provision to stay will further entrench the Common Core State Standards in the state of Iowa.  This is unacceptable. Also why would we want to allow the department to mandate an assessment that isn’t even written?  If you look at the language only Smarter Balanced Assessments fit the criteria as the assessment “is aligned with the Iowa common core standards in both content and rigor; is developed by a consortium in which the state of Iowa is a participant.”  What if they’re horrible?  Too costly?  Violate student privacy through data mining?

Not to mention this is an affront to local control.  This language must be stripped out of the bill.

Independent Accreditation for Non-Public Schools

Again this is a provision in the HF 215.  I described this in an earlier post.

Currently in Iowa the only accreditation that is recognized by the Iowa Department of Education is the state accreditation that they do for non-public schools.  Being accredited allows a non-public school to benefit from the school tuition organizations (people who donate get tax credits), transportation reimbursement, textbook reimbursement fund for non-religious text books, AEA support (cost sharing for media, professional developed, etc.) and for marketing purposes.  Saying you are accredited obviously sounds more attractive for parents than not.  Anyway, this bill allows schools to be accredited by say the Association of Christian Schools International and still receive those benefits.  Schools also will likely not have formally adopt the Iowa Core or Common Core State Standards (though they’ll still be impacted by standardized testing) unless their accrediting body expects that.

What does accreditation by the Iowa Department of Education accomplish anyway?  Failing public schools are accredited by them.  This will provide accountability for non-public schools, as Iowa Association of Christian Schools describes: “These independent accrediting agencies would keep Iowa’s nonpublic schools that choose to work with them accountable and help them raise the bar by continually pushing us to meet the standards and objectives we have as mission-driven schools.”

Accountability, but by agencies that recognize their unique mission as non-public schools many of which in the state of Iowa are Christian.  This makes sense and it should be kept in the bill.

Educational Liberty Provisions

HF 215 was extremely friendly to homeschoolers.  Some if not all of these provisions should be fought for in the conferencing committee.  Here the provisions passed by the Iowa House in February:

  • Homeschooling parents are not required to have their child assessed.  The key language: “A parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child of compulsory attendance age providing competent private instruction to the child shall may meet all of the following requirements.”  Changing “shall” to “may” changes the options mandated for homeschooling families to something that is optional.
  • No more Competent Private Instruction (CPI) forms – Under this provision homeschooling families no longer need to report their intent to homeschool to their local school district.  Current state law states that families who want to have their kids receive instruction outside of their local school or accredited nonpublic school needs to complete a CPI form and turn it into their local school district office.
  • Homeschool Drivers’ Education – Basically this allows parents to teach their children driver’s education.  For most of us in the homeschooling community it seemed nonsensical that we would be entrusted to teach our children subjects like Math and English, but couldn’t teach them to drive?  It has been difficult for homeschooling families to even get into a driver’s education program.  Those of us who have had to go to a for-profit entity for drivers’ education have incurred a major expense.

These are also common sense provisions that I would hope will remain in the conference committee report.

Conclusion

Here’s where I’m at.  If the assessment language is not stripped from the conference committee report and some, if not all, of these school choice measures are not kept in the report there is zero reason for Republicans to vote in favor of the bill.  None.  Zip.  Democrats need to play ball.  I’d rather see Republicans agree to increase allowable growth than to cave on keeping assessment language and these educational choice measures.

As a parent of three who homeschools and as a taxpayer who cares about local control I expect Republicans in the conference committee to fight for these things.  Partisanship aside there should common ground.  School choice works and enjoys bipartisan support nationally.  Teachers’ unions don’t want high-stakes testing.  Why would we want to approve an assessment without first knowing how much it will cost?  True education reform will include these things.

I’ll be watching and I encourage my readers to join me in contacting members of the conference committee.  The conference committee met today and they’ll meet again tomorrow at noon.  They need to hear from you.

Update: First paragraph under Common Core Assessments was updated to reflect the fact that there are assessments already mandated by the state of Iowa, but the Department can’t make a change with those assessments without statutory change.

Photo Credit: Douglas Porter via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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