Iowa education reforms unveiled (AUDIO)

The governor’s education czar, Linda Fandel, and Jason Glass, his Dept. of Education director, started a briefing at 8 a.m. this Monday morning. Fandel began, calling it a “blueprint on how we can transform Iowa schools.”

AUDIO of 56 minute briefing

Glass took over, saying the “framework” of the blue print was built looking at high performing schools in other states and around the world. Access and equity for students have been addressed before in Iowa, according to Glass, and he pointed to previous efforts to improve the competency and quality of the teaching profession.

He said all these are positives to build on, but they also represent areas to improve upon.

“Having great teachers and principals in every building, he said.  Providing scholarships to high-performing students, raising GPA for getting into teaching and administration programs at the college level and raising starting pay are among the proposals.  They want a mentor and master teacher system in every school in the state.  A single website to post all education jobs in Iowa is another proposal.  “We’d like to stitch that system more closely together,” Glass said.

Glass said Branstad also wants to “expand alternate pathways” into teaching and administration. “We’ve been systematically excluding talent from our workforce,” Glass said.

Creating  more reciprocity with other states, to allow educators with licenses from other states to more easily get an Iowa teaching license and creating a multi-step hiring process are other goals in this area.

The proposal calls for a four-tier pay system for teachers starting with an apprentice level for 3-5 years; the career teacher level would bring a “substantial pay increase” and 15 percent would rise to mentor level and only five percent would get all the way up to the master teacher level.  “This is not new for Iowa.  Iowa has attempted this  before,” Glass said.  Either the funding hasn’t been there or the leadership hasn’t been there to accomplish that, according to Glass, who said Branstad isn’ proposing new state funding for this, but instead the governor will expect schools to “more strategically use” their existing resources.

Next up, teacher evaluation, including “peer-based components” so “every teacher, every year” would be evaluated, Glass said.  He said once fully implemented, Branstad and his administration believes this new salary structure creates new options, like paying for advanced degrees or teachingin high-proverty schools.

The next element of the blueprint addresses what Glass termed “job protection” — and everyone knows there are ineffective teachers, Glass said. “We need to recognize that and have an open, honest process by which we remove educators who are not effective,” Glass said. Seniority-based layoff procedures would be a thing of the past, Glass said.

The second major area is “high expectations and fair measures” Glass said.  The Iowa “core” was a step in that direction, he said, holding the promise of lifting standards so Iowa and U.S. schools will be on par with the best systems in other countries. Glass used a catch-phrase saying the state would start using “smarter balanced” assessments in grades three through eight when those assessments are drafted.

“I favor all 11th graders taking the ACT,” Glass said,  or the SAT as an alternative.  The purpose of that is to give better data about student achievement and eight or nine states already have students take the ACT.

A kindergarten assessment will be administered, too, Fandel said, as a means of ensuring third-grade literacy. It’s modeled after something happening in Florida that is helping 4th graders now perform better at reading than Iowa 4th graders.  The effort is to make sure kids can read when they leave third grade.

Glass talked about adding “value-added measures”in Iowa schools, which he said had been controversial in other states.  “It’s an incredibly powerful analytical tool,” he said, but cautioned Branstad will make the information secret.

School districts that demonstrate success can earn autonomy from state bureaucrats, Glass said, adding the school accreditation process at the state level would be retooled.

The last area — “the spirit of innovation” – according to Glass. “We need to inject that into Iowa,” Glass said.  Creating an innovation acceleration fund would be part of the plan, allowing schools or communities to apply for grants.  “The most aggressive and most likely to succeed would be funded,” Glass said.

Glass said he will ask the legislature for “greater waiver authority” for school innovations that meet the “spirit of the law, but not the letter of the law.” Charter schools are a means of experimenting, but if they’re not effective they’ll be closed, he said.

An Iowa on-line academy would be created, to give schools an option to purchase courses.  “Anytime, anywhere learning and ending the factory model,” he said was the goal.  Not making kids who’ve mastered a course sit through all the classes, letting them move on.  “We really don’t know how to do this,” he said, but Glass argued kids should be “unbound from the time-based” system currently in place.

“Our goal is, of course, world class schools,” Glass said.

How much will this cost?  “It depends,” Glass said.  “…We need to do all of this and as quickly as we can…but we need to push.” What he laid out today is not for the next legislative session — it’s for the next decade, he said.

“Comprehensive and sweeping” is how Glass described the overall plan.  “It is not intended as a list of options that should be cherry-picked,” he said. “…We have to work to put in place a system that transcends traditional party politics, that is broader from just oen election to the next.”

First question was about the money. Glass said it would involve “new resources” and asking the legislature to “appropriately fund this” if it is to be successful.

Education takes up 58 percent of the state budget.  Should that be increased?  “I will advocate that we should be increasing funding,” Glass said, although he said the work begins by using the money already in the system in more strategic ways.

Dollar figure for the whole thing?  They don’t have it, Glass told reporters. “We’re still working on that number now,” Glass said.

Salary for starting teachers?  Glass said there is a dollar figure that’s attached to that, but he didn’t give a number.  Glass said the starting teacher salary now is $28,000 in Iowa.

Glass late said Branstad and his staff are considering an exit exam for high school seniors.

Fandel said today’s goal was to “lay out the vision” and get “buy in” before the price tag would be unveiled.  So are they not putting out the price tag today because they want to avoid “sticker shock” was the next question.

“Everybody knows this will not be cheap,” she said, after repeating the “buy in” and “vision” goals.

In answer to a question about the third-grade assessment initiative, Fandel said Florida in the last academic year held back 5.9 percent of third graders in their program aimed at making sure kids can read before entering fourth grade.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.