Karen W., who regularly comments here, has done us the service of wading through the details of Governor Branstad’s education proposal. Here is her summary and some of her thoughts. (One apology about the post title: I packed a lot more irony into that question mark than perhaps any one character ought to bear.)
The Branstad-Reynolds administration recently released a legislative brief describing their education reform recommendations for the 2012 legislative session. The details are now available in the 156 page Senate Study Bill 3009 available here. The recommendations, in a nutshell, are to further centralize control of Iowa public schools in the Iowa Department of Education (DE). (Note that I am summarizing primarily from the legislative brief—I haven’t had time to wade through SSB 3009 yet).
Section I—Great Teachers and Leaders. Proposes to have the DE control a statewide job listing and application system which would include the results of a required personality and disposition assessment of the applicant (even though 80% of districts voluntarily use another listing service). Proposes to require a 3.0 cumulative college GPA and a passing score on unspecified exams (likely Praxis exams) for admission to teacher preparation programs and to obtain a license without any serious public discussion about what prospective elementary teachers learn in the teacher preparation programs (hint: it isn’t the five components of science-based reading instruction—see the NCTQ report here). Proposes to bring educator licensure under the DE and relegate the current Board of Educational Examiners to handling ethics complaints. Proposes to create uniform systems of educator evaluation, lengthen teacher/administration probationary status, end judicial review of dismissals (lawyers make things complicated), and end seniority-based layoffs (introducing the opportunity for arbitrary decisions). Proposes to expand a School Administration Manager program (DE wants principals to be assigned other duties). Proposes that the DE will decide what professional development (PD) should be done each year and DE approval will be required for all PD programs (one-size-fits-all comes for teachers/districts). Proposes to create a task force on teacher leadership and compensation (which presumably will make the same recommendations already rejected at public meetings around the state).
Section II—High Expectations and Fair Measures. Proposes to provide model curricula to aid districts in implementing the Iowa Core standards (remember that the Iowa Core began as voluntary, model standards). Proposes to “expand the Iowa Core into other areas that have been neglected for too long, such as music and other fine arts, foreign languages, entrepreneurial education, physical education, applied arts, and character education” (note that there is no reason to think that school districts have neglected these areas so watch for recommendations for new assessments aligned to these new standards so teachers of these subjects can be drawn into standardized-test driven evaluation and accountability). Proposes more assessments: kindergarten readiness measures, high school end of course exams, PISA, and college and career readiness measures ($6.3 million). Proposes a value-added measure for accountability that will take student demographics into account. Proposes a statewide literacy program to support high-quality reading programs (from the same people who wrote balanced literacy into the Iowa Core) that includes a controversial third-grade retention component.
Section III—Innovation. Proposes an Innovation Acceleration Fund (amounting to $3.94 per student enrolled in public and accredited non-public schools). Proposes a pathway to competency-based education systems. Proposes expanding online learning opportunities. Proposes removing restrictions on charter schools, but just the ones limiting them to school districts so that universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations could also apply. Proposes that the director of the DE have authority to waive compliance with rules and statutes to provide flexibility for school districts trying to improve learning (note use of the rule of man approach introduces the likelihood of arbitrary decisions—why not use a rule of law approach to create more certain flexibility by repealing rules and recommending the repeal of statutes that are identified as preventing districts from improving instruction?). Proposes a task force on time and schools even though Iowa students have more compulsory hours of instruction than students in Finland (see here and click on table—maybe we should be looking at more effective use of time rather than just adding more of it). Proposes a statewide parent engagement network. The legislative brief refers to the ISPIN program and IPIRC, which offer tips on how parents should take responsibility for homework completion, and what questions we should ask our children about school. SSB 3009 (p. 127) requires the DE to create a Statewide Parent Advocacy Network with parent representatives identified by the District Boards of Directors.
To what extent do we have “public” schools in Iowa anymore, in the sense that the public (local community to be served by the school district) has any meaningful participation in decision-making about the educational program offered by the district? The Iowa Core mandates what, when, and how students should learn. The Iowa Core favors use of technology, constructivism over instruction, balanced literacy over direct, explicit, systematic, and complete instruction in phonics, and has rejected traditional math and science. Is there any compelling reason these decisions (or any of the ones raised by the Branstad-Reynolds proposal) should be made at the state level rather than the local level?
Any thoughts on the Branstad-Reynolds education reform proposal are welcome. What action would you like to see the legislature take on education this session?