Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guest Post: World-Class Schools?

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?


Chris said...

Thanks again for this post, Karen. “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?” Not that I can see. I would like to see the legislature give the school districts meaningful local control over educational policy. I would like to see local school board candidates debate what the mission of our schools should be, and how it should be manifested in day-to-day life at school, without having that debate preempted by the state and federal governments’ decision that school is exclusively about raising standardized test scores.

So much here to talk about: more assessments, third-grade retention rules, increasingly centralized control, possibly lengthening the school day – ugh. A real Father Knows Best attitude toward teachers, school boards, and the public. And a personality test for prospective teachers? I’m afraid to ask what personality traits they’re looking for.

Chris said...

Readers: I hereby promise to write a post about the list of suggested messages that “educators and community members can deliver to families regarding specific actions they can do that can impact their children’s school performance,” from the Iowa Parent Information Resource Center (IPIRC) that Karen links to above – if only to spare you all the painful experience of reading it yourselves.

Mandy said...

So, I glanced at some of the suggested messages and also some of the suggested School/Teacher/Parent/Student Compacts. They sound like the Hoover Pledge with teachers and parents mindlessly swearing to "Return assignments and assessments in a timely manner", "Work hard—trying even when the task is challenging" or "Make sure my student attends school each day and arrives on time". I would be enraged as an education professional to have to sign something like that. As a parent, I wouldn't sign it and I wouldn't make my kids sign it. What is all this busy nonsense supposed to accomplish again? I can't believe that that DOE wants to micromanage all schools like this. (and coming from a "smaller government" Republican administration. Can you say Paternalistic? I really hope teachers rally together as a profession and stand up and become vocal. Why would anyone want to teach under these conditions? Oh, that's right, more online classes with no real teaching.

The future of public education in Iowa if Brandstand/Reynolds get their way, does not look promising. Many say that that is the idea to destroy public education, make way for charter and for profit schools where the real emphasis in making money. Brandstand has been pretty clear that he's grooming Reynolds to be the next governor. Hopefully the Iowa electorate put an end to that.
Karen, that's for breaking everything down. I don't know if I could have waded through it all with out banging my head against the wall.

Doris said...

Karen W.--Thanks so much for doing all this work to summarize the proposals. It was really helpful--if also super depressing.

Chris said...

That post I promised is here.

Karen W said...

A quick legislative update: SSB 3009 has been assigned to a subcommittee of Sens. Quirmbach, Hamerlinck, and Schoenjahn. HSB 517 has been assigned to a subcommittee of Reps. Chambers, Forristall, Taylor, J., Dolecheck, Hanson, Winckler, and Steckman.

Looks like these will be the bills to watch for amendments. QC Times reports that Forristall hopes to have the bill ready for a vote by the House Education Committee by Feb. 15th. Johnson County Reps. Mascher and Willems and Sen. Dvorsky serve on House/Senate Education Committees.

Chris said...

Thanks for the update, Karen. Here's the clickable link.

Karen W said...

Legislative update: Friday the 24th is the first funnel date (bills need to be voted out of committee). Iowa Politics is reporting that the House Education Committee will debate their version of HSB 517 on Monday the 20th at 4 pm. No amendments online yet, but presumably will be made available prior to the debate. The Senate Education Committee version of SSB 3009 should be available online on Monday also.