Wednesday, October 12, 2011

LCEA Talking Points on the Governor's Education Reform Plan

Since July 2011, the ISEA has eagerly awaited details of the Governor’s plan for education
reform in Iowa. With Monday’s release of One Unshakable Vision, we still have more questions
than answers.

Throughout the past three months, the ISEA and our members have participated in the
Governor’s roundtable work groups, town hall meetings, and online discussions about his
plan for reform. We have utilized every possible opportunity for input. We strongly believe any
education reform begins by placing students at the center and keeps education professionals
in the discussion.

One Unshakable Vision, while chock full of great thoughts and expectations about how to
help Iowa’s students succeed, is still short on details. Many of the proposals are agreeable,
but parents, students, and educators will find it hard to imagine how the entire plan will be
implemented and funded.

Talking Points 

  • Most good legislation is passed by compromise. However, the Governor has repeatedly stated “this blueprint is not a list of options to be cherry-picked.” While we appreciate the spirit in which this “all or nothing” approach is intended, there may be things the ISEA simply cannot support.
  • Overall funding. Last spring, the Legislature and Governor significantly cut education spending. This proposal, with its additional assessment tests, salaries, scholarships, professional development, technology, and collaboration time could have a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We have concerns about where the resources will come from.
  • The plan is long on ideas and vague on details. Education is about specifics and how one piece will affect the next. We believe more details need to be shared before decisions can be made.
  • Kindergarten assessment tests, third-grade reading assessments, formative and summative assessments, ninth-grade PISA, eleventh-grade ACT or SAT, and Endof-Course exams. How will all of these tests and assessments translate into helping students and improving instruction in the classroom?
  • Raising starting pay to attract better teacher candidates is a wonderful proposition. The ISEA fully supports this notion. However, the plan doesn’t say where the money will come from, or how much the “raise” will be.
  • The “Transformational Teacher Salary Structure” is short on details. There are aspects everyone can embrace such as increasing base pay, advancement based on additional opportunities, and the concept of teacher-leadership roles. There is no evidence that a new salary structure improves student learning.
  • School boards have the final say in dismissals rather than a neutral, third party. This is an important and unacceptable change in our labor relations laws. Currently, educators are entitled to appeal a school board’s decision to a non-local, third-party, who is neutral to the facts in the dismissal. The local school district’s school board cannot be a fair and impartial arbitrator.
  • The plan calls for standards—for Iowa teachers and college graduates—and other measures to elevate the teaching profession, but at the same time, allows reciprocity for teaching licenses in other states when those states may not have the same high standards we are trying to create.
  • Teachers at the Apprentice level would become “At Will” employees. This is a change for education professionals who are part of a union and means they have a much longer probationary period in which they can be fired for any reason. It is an unacceptable position for the ISEA, especially because Iowa already has fair and complete termination proceedings.
  • It is a bad idea to grant anyone the ability to be outside of the law. Granting Director Glass authority to waive Iowa statutes and rules is a recipe for bad public policy and less transparency.
  • The plan retains third graders who cannot pass a literacy test, but allows schools to promote them to fourth grade whenever they can read. Placing a third-grade student, mid-year, who has been held back into a new fourth-grade class without any prior work, is another example of an idea that might sound good on paper but has not been thought through.

Our hopes
  • Our hope, moving forward, is that the Governor will schedule his public hearings at times mutually agreeable for working people to attend. Educators would like to continue to provide input into the direction of Iowa’s public schools. Unfortunately, many of the town hall meetings so far have taken place during the school day. We believe the Governor needs to hear from the people who are on the front lines if he truly wants to transform our schools.
  • Our hope is the Governor will listen to our ideas and our constructive criticism and value our input. We have a unique view of students because we interact with them every day. We know what they say in class, how well they do on homework assignments, and what will keep them interested and engaged. Many of us have been in the classroom as long as policy makers have been working in state government, so please take to heart our ideas and our opinions. No amount of reading and hearing from experts replaces the real time we have in the classroom.
  • Our hope is that everyone involved in Iowa’s education reform plan is committed to having a qualified teacher in the classroom, the resources we need to do our jobs, and the community support our students need to succeed in life. With all of that, Iowa’s children cannot lose.