classroom desksThe biggest question of course, with the education reform bill that Governor Branstad will sign on Monday, is what will be the final impact on our students? In the meantime, what does it do for teachers and how will it change the way Iowans teach? The original bill was pushed by Department of Education Director Jason Glass and the Governor’s office. It has some merit on issues of base salary and career opportunities. It also has merit on the issue of rethinking our teacher evaluation system. Professional Educators of Iowa was instrumental in pointing out issues of union favoritism in the structure of decision making committees and we were very successful in influencing change concerning several equity issues. Unfortunately, some ISEA union language still made it through. We don’t know if it was oversight or compromise, but regardless, it does not belong in a public education bill. Why? The state of Iowa is supposed to be neutral, showing no favoritism to any particular group. Yet, naming independent organizations with guarantees of a seat on a board or council regardless of the qualifications of the individuals discredits all who may be better qualified, but eliminated because they don’t pay dues. Frankly, NO ORGANIZATION should have such guarantees!

The issue that is most egregious to us is the naming of the union for committees when a topic impacts ALL teachers. The people on the committee should be recruited on ability and leadership, not affiliation with a private organization. There are open seats that we will strive to have filled with PEI members or other qualified independent teachers. That union catering language was not in the original House bill, but the House gave in to this compromise. In the final vote, more senators voted against the bill than representatives.

The Council on Educator Development guarantees a seat of representation to the DOE, AEA’s, ISEA, SAI, IASB, Urban Education Network, the largest teacher preparation program in the state and finally gives parents and members of the general assembly a seat. Why? Qualifications should be the issue, not being the largest or most well-known. How about the “largest” preparation college factor? WE KNOW by our experience that biggest doesn’t guarantee best.

The commission on educator leadership and compensation has a guarantee for the ISEA Director and 5 ISEA union seats and only 2 other seats for teachers. What group’s interests do you think will prevail?

This is also true for the school district reporting requirement task force. You guessed it; 3 ISEA union slots regardless of qualifications.

Who is pleased with the bill? The home-school lobby gained some freedom and the private school lobby gained some freedom from state strings for outside accreditation.

PEI wants a loosening of the strings and paperwork that tie down our public teachers. We know that teachers do their best in an environment that allows creativity in working toward a goal. Sure a programmed curriculum, may be easier, may be convenient, and may provide an escape from personal design but our question is simple. In the past 15 years with the piling on of bureaucratic local and state compliance requirements and itemization for teacher qualification, the dissecting of portfolios, mandated goal setting, state evaluation systems with certified evaluators and much more, how much has student achievement improved? We asked Jason Glass this personally and ask it of everyone we talk with because the answer is NONE. Yet, we keep piling on instead of stepping back and looking for
ways to allow teacher creativity in an environment that gives the goals and allows local control on how to arrive there. Will the next thing we see be state mandated basketball and football plays?

Despite the problems we see in the bill, we know that our members will like the increased funding guarantees. PEI signed on with those early. As a matter of fact, there are many, many teachers who would not have suffered the anxiety of pink-slips, staff downsizing, and other threats of job loss if in fact the union’s purchased politicians would not have worked so hard on their paybacks.

On the core curriculum, it seems that there was a loosening. As a matter of fact, the conference committee removed the “consortium” language that would not limit Iowa to Smarter Balanced or PARCC. They are pushing any new assessment off to the 2016-2017 school year and are creating a task force that will study this issue, including cost. The task force will have to report their findings to the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa State Board of Education and the Iowa Legislature by January 1, 2015.

PEI’s job now is to help our members live with the bill which we in the end, still questioned greatly. Up to the last day, PEI was asking how any improvement could be ahead considering the many changes in the past ten years that have brought forth little or no higher student achievement. Here is what we recommend: take advantage of as many items that are applicable to you and demonstrate your excellence. Apply for committees regardless of not being in the union. Here are a few items in the bill with which you may want to leverage for you and your student’s benefit:

  • Teach Iowa scholar grant program for high-caliber teachers
  • Career pathways providing opportunities and additional compensation for teachers who demonstrate effectiveness and leadership potential
  • Expansion of Iowa Learning Online
  • Online statewide job posting system
  • Pilot program providing student teachers with a year-long student teaching field experience
  • Council on Educator Development to study and make recommendations on teacher and administrator evaluation systems
  • Competency-Based Instruction Task Force
  • Option for school districts to measure instruction time in days or hours

Finally, we have encouraged our members to tap their representatives and senators and continue to encourage their direct contact. Let them know that memberships in organizations have nothing to do with qualifications to serve. Think of examples as you talk to them, such as this; if we wanted a committee to determine the specifications for a bid item, but only asked Hewlett Packard to write them, do you think the specifications would be something that worked for Xerox? PEI members please explain this to the other independent teachers that you know – we are working for ALL independent teachers on this and many other issues as the arise!

As we started on this process to summarize the bill, it became very difficult to not editorialize at the same time. It is an insult to at least a third of the educators in the state (by our estimates) who have been purposely excluded from many positions of influence. We fought hard and heard guarantees. Some were fulfilled but far too many were compromised. My apologies to those who worked so hard and thought they did it right; I know many meant to do well. We stand with the principles as were stated by William Penn years ago:

“Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”

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