Monday, December 26, 2011

Iowa Education Chief, Reform Takes Time

DES MOINES (AP) - The director of the Iowa Department of Education says he's willing to be patient with his plan to overhaul the state's public school system, acknowledging that many people aren't ready for changes he thinks are essential.

Gov. Terry Branstad chose 40-year-old Jason Glass largely because of his background in education reform, and since coming to Iowa he has been leading the push for dramatic changes to the state's public schools.

Because he began his job only a couple weeks before the last legislative session began, this was supposed to be the session where Glass would see his ambitious plans enacted. He proposed a 15-page package of proposals that would shake up the state's schools, changing the way they do business on everything from paying teachers to opening the profession to non-traditional educators.
That still may happen, but Branstad has temporarily shelved a proposed tiered system of teacher pay that increased salaries for beginning teachers and let teacher move through a series of pay grades based on performance in the classroom.
Glass noted that other aspects of his reform plan will move forward, including efforts to improve teacher education and recruitment efforts and refine teacher and student evaluation programs. And Glass said he and Branstad always planned to implement reforms over a number of years.

"We wrote a 10-year plan," Glass said. "If it takes me an extra year to change a pay system that's nearly a hundred years old, I can live with that. It's about building it to last and doing it right. This is a marathon, not a sprint."

Iowa's elementary and secondary education system accounts for 45 percent of the state's roughly $6 billion general fund budget.

Glass said he believes education deserves more money, but first he must prove that the tax dollars can be spent more effectively.

"My job is to advocate for education, so I'm always going to say we need more resources," he said. "I think we can make the case with this reform effort that we are willing to do some things very differently in order to necessitate and earn an increased expenditure in education."

Glass went to high schools and college in Kentucky, and he holds a doctorate from Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. He worked for school districts in Colorado and the Colorado Department of Education, then took a position with Battelle for Kids, an organization advising states on strategies for education reform.

Legislators and educators said they'll need to see whether Glass can get his proposals through the Legislature and assess whether they're effective before passing judgment on the director.

Rep. Greg Forristall, a Macedonia Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, gave Glass credit for challenging conventional wisdom, but said it was only a start.

"He helped the Governor's Office prepare and bring out a bold plan, but they've had to retreat a little bit," Forristall said. "It was rather wide-ranging, and we had a lot of questions about the implementation."

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said it's too soon to assess Glass or his proposals. But she complimented Glass on his willingness to listen to teachers.

"We don't agree with him on every issue," she said. "We feel very free to talk about what we don't agree with and that's a very healthy conversation."

Sen. Tom Courtney, a Burlington Democrat, said he worries that plans to give local school officials more flexibility to reward individual teachers for classroom performance is an effort to erode the ability of unions to bargain for the group.

"His goal is to reduce the power of the teachers union," Courtney said. "I'm not at all impressed with his take on education. I hope I'm wrong."

Glass insists he's undaunted and will push forward with the remaining aspects of the package, which he said will reshape schools by changing the way teachers are evaluated and student performance is judged.

"Even as we slow down the education compensation component and try to slow down the timeline, the remaining components are fairly sweeping," Glass said. "I think we are trying to be more thoughtful and strategic about how we do it, which we should."

And after moving ahead with some reform efforts, Glass said he will return to more controversial issues, such as the tiered pay plan. First, though, he and the governor will work to win support from legislators, teachers and the public.

"This is not an issue that is ripe in Iowa yet," Glass said. "We feel like we have more work to do to explain to people the model we think the state needs to move toward."