An Open Response to Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass:
First of all, thank you for asking your three questions for Iowa education. In my 30-plus year career, no one has ever asked anyone in our profession before. Below are my responses.
1. What should we stop doing?
Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.
The Iowa Tests are an excellent test--one of the best in the nation. We need to continue to use them, but only in the manner for which they were designed: to assess the curriculum of individual districts. The Iowa Tests are norm-referenced and are therefore ill-equipped for testing against specific criteria. Moreover, the criteria on which the Tests are based is kept a secret from Iowa schools. If we are to improve student achievement in Iowa, we need specific content for the students and we need assessments designed to accurately measure whether or not teachers are teaching and students are learning.
2. What should we keep doing?
I was an initial opponent of the Iowa Core Curriculum because schools were being held accountable by the Iowa Tests, yet the Iowa Core lacks the specificity to help us improve on those tests. However, I see the education community in the state unifying behind the Core which is something that is badly needed. The Core should be kept, but modified and augmented. We need to include national standards because we are a mobile nation. Kids move into and out of Iowa from every state in the union, as well as many foreign countries. We need common standards, but we need the specificity in our curriculum that will allow us to increase student achievement as measured by our tests.
3. What should we start doing?
Iowa schools have improved since the open enrollment law was passed in the mid-1980's. Schools had captive audiences before. Since the law, schools have had to improve or lose customers. The law made schools more customer-focused. But the law is really only for those with enough money to afford transportation. Until we allow buses to cross the boundaries of another school district, we will not have true open enrollment.
Charter schools are not necessarily a fix for creating innovation in Iowa, but they are necessary, and we need to open the doors of more of them. Where they are needed is in rural Iowa. Iowa's dwindling rural population is hurting the state. We need charter schools that have the flexibility to keep schools open in small communities. We need to maintain our rural public infrastructure and services if we are to maintain our rural population.
Find Greater Efficiencies
Our schools are still structured on a 19th Century model here in the 21st Century. Modern technology and communication means the management of schools can become more efficient.
Embrace 21st Century Learning
Iowa does have an issue with technology. In some districts, technology is a tool; in others it is an aim. Technology needs to facilitate high-order teaching and learning in the classrooms. With the high-tech world our students will be entering, we need to make sure we adapt our teaching, our curriculum, our school days, our course offerings to reflect the way technology can be used as the tool it should be.
Thank you for your consideration.