The topic was education, and the focus was the sweeping reforms needed to put Iowa students back at the top, among the most highly educated youth in the world again. As part of a statewide tour began in October, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Linda Fandel, the Governor's Special Assistant for Education, met with area educators and others during a visit to Emmetsburg High School on Dec. 13.
"It's critical that we work together to restore Iowa schools to the best in the country," said Gov. Terry Branstad. "It's essential that students have a rigorous, well-rounded education and become confident self-learners. A world-class education and a world-class workforce go hand-in-hand."
Branstad shared details about the Iowa Education Blueprint, which was released in October as a kind of roadmap to raise Iowa's education standards. According to Branstad, Iowa's test scores have remained stagnant since the early 1990s and the state lags far behind in education reforms.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Linda Fandel, the Governor’s Special Assistant for Education, discussed education reform during a visit to Emmetsburg High School on Dec. 13. Pictured (from left to right) are Fandel, Reynolds, and Branstad. –Dan Voigt photo
"Since October, we have been traveling across Iowa, learning how we can improve education in the state," stated Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. "So far, the blueprint contains three guiding points: we must have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school building; we must raise academic standards and adopt new assessments; and we must foster a spirit of innovation."
Highlights of the Iowa Education Blueprint includes such goals as:
Boost the minimum starting teacher pay to attract more top talent;
Raise the grade point average for admission to teacher education programs to 3.0;
Improve student-teaching experiences, increasing solo teaching time;
K-12 mentors who supervise student teachers serve as adjunct college faculty;
Require all teacher candidates pass a test to show content mastery;
New mentor and master teachers to help provide K-12 instructional leadership;
Require weekly meetings for teachers to collaborate on student achievement;
Peers take part in teacher and administrator observations and evaluations;
Establish a new four-tiered teacher salary structure to build a strong system of support: Apprentice, Career, Mentor, and Master Teachers;
Increase pay significantly from level to level;
All new teachers are part of the tiered structure. Current teachers can move over to that structure or say with the existing step-and-lane structure;
Other options for higher pay include filling critical-shortage positions;
Cost-of-living increases would be decided locally;
Expand the School Administration Manager program to free up principals to be instructional leaders;
Improve the Iowa Core to raise state academic standards;
Create a rigorous model curriculum to serve as a guide to school district;
Adopt new assessments to better determine student strengths and weaknesses;
New tests include end-of-course exams that act as a high school exit exam;
Ensure third graders read with intensive support and end social promotion;
Fuel local innovation with an "Innovation Acceleration Fund";
Expand pathway for charter schools that meet state approval;
Offer more high-quality online learning options;
Expand competency-based education; and
Launch statewide effort to increase parent engagement.
Throughout the meeting, the public had opportunities to ask questions of the Governor and others.
One question concerned the correlation between parent involvement and success in school.
"Parent involvement is critical, especially with broken families and divorce," said Branstad. "Regardless of the financial situation, if parents are engaged, it's huge."
Emmetsburg resident Brian Campbell asked about the role retired educators and community leaders could play.
"Retirees can certainly augment what teachers do," answered Branstad. "They are an important asset and we have to utilize them."
"I would like to see us build a network of retired mentors and teachers," Linda Fandel added.
Another question regarded the correlation between the size of a district and student success.
"A school district can get so small that it can't offer a quality education, but there is no direct correlation between the size of a district and student success," Branstad answered. "Years ago, I was a proponent of open enrollment. We can also do a lot of things through sharing, especially with colleges. Kids can now dual-enroll in high school and college."
"There are lots of sharing opportunities," noted Reynolds. "That's another area we can look at."
Branstad added, "We need to look at economic development and keeping people in towns. We're strong in agriculture and biofuels like ethanol and wind. We also need to increase the birthrate."
A question about the use of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) was raised.
"We still use the ITBS in grade school, but it's not aligned with the new standards in education. We use the Iowa Tests of Education Development (ITEDs) at the high school level," said Branstad.
Fandel explained, "We're looking at changing the assessments we use right now grades 3-8, and looking at giving 15-year olds (ninth graders) a test to see if they are prepared to take part in a global workforce. They would stop taking the ITEDs. Currently, all high school juniors take the ACTs."
B.J. Schany asked which U.S. state leads in education.
"Massachusetts is at the top. Iowa ranks around the 20th percentile or so," said Branstad. "Global leaders include Singapore, Finland, Australia, Canada, and China."
"Eighty-four percent of parents work full-time," said Marcie Frevert. "I urge you to accept more input from those who are not here, but are employed and have children. I urge caution, too. Kids develop at different times."
Another question asked how the governor's thoughts have changed as a result of the tour.
"We're getting closer to a consensus," said Branstad. "We certainly need to have flexibility and we will continue to evaluate and see how much revenue is available, as well. We need to do something permanent and long-lasting."
Reynolds said that recommendations would be released in January.