Submitted by Senator Pat Ward
Last week we started debate on the education reform bill in the Iowa Senate. I believe education reform is critical to expanding our economy and bringing new jobs to our state.
We used to have bragging rights of being a world-class education state, but unfortunately that status is long gone and we’ve fallen to mediocrity. We must change this landscape if we want our kids prepared to compete in a global economy, much less have an opportunity to stay in Iowa with a good job.
As I’ve been out and about in the district, numerous people have visited with me about the need to improve education outcomes in our state. With schools across the state spending more money per pupil and student performance continuing to fall further behind other states, Iowa is in need of reform.
What's your best suggestion for education reform in Iowa? Tell us in comments.
In 1992, Iowa ranked first in fourth grade reading, but by 2009, 13 states had leapt by. The problem hasn’t been that Iowa’s students are doing significantly worse, but rather other states are getting much better. These same trends hold true in eighth grade math and other subject areas as well.
There are many ways to bring about education reform. The House and Senate both have competing education reform plans, with the House version more closely resembling Governor Branstad’s original proposal. Although the final education reform bill will be put together by a legislative conference committee, some of the most important provisions in the House plan include:
- Expanding teacher licensure to bring more practical experience into the classroom
- Requiring annual evaluations to ensure educators are receiving accurate and timely feedback
- Expands Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Initiatives to help bolster student involvement for these in-demand areas
In addition to these changes, I believe teacher effectiveness is a top priority. As part of the reform efforts, I offered an amendment to the Senate Education bill which would end the antiquated practice of “Last-In, First-Out” – simply put the newest teacher is the first to go during a layoff.
As it stands now, a teacher’s impact on students plays absolutely no role in layoff decisions. We all know there are many newer teachers who are fantastic and deliver incredible results for students – and there are longer serving teachers who just don’t.
Seniority just isn’t a good predictor of teacher performance and it’s not in our student’s best interests to keep using it as the determining factor in layoffs.
How about considering a teacher’s specialized training or teaching method? How about identifying teachers who are chronically absent without legitimate cause? How about teachers who have consistently been rated incompetent? What about considering “teachers of the year” and others recognized for extraordinary merit?
I believe it’s a total cop-out to say that we can’t do better than just using “seniority” to determine layoffs.
This policy change would help ensure the best teachers remain in the classroom – not just those with the most seniority. Hours logged on the job should not determine who stays and who goes.
In the private sector, most employers hire, fire, and make layoff decisions based on a person’s skill set and their performance. Merit works.
If we want the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms – we must change this outdated policy. We must strive for excellence. Excellent teachers should be retained in our schools, regardless of how long they have worked there.