Collective Bargaining

It’s been a doozy of a week for education, with Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education on Tuesday and Governor Branstad signing SF 166, setting SSA at 1.11% (with only $40 million or $73 per student of new money), on Wednesday, and now moving on to bills to change collective bargaining for public employees in Iowa (Chapter 20).

Based on my Twitter feed, the collective bargaining bills are the hot topic at legislative forums this weekend (see Twitter #saveiaworkers, #ialegis, #iaedfuture). This tweet, apparently relaying a comment made by Rep. Rogers at one of today’s forums, caught my attention.

Comments like this are hard for the audience to verify if the alleged supporters aren’t speaking publicly, but, for what it is worth, we can check lobbyist registration information on the bills.

Chapter 20 bills are HSB84, now numbered as HF291, and SF213.

The Iowa Association of School Boards is registered as undecided on HSB84, HF291, and SF213 (click these links to see all lobbyist registrations on each bill). Despite being registered on 74 other bills, School Administrators of Iowa has not registered a position on any of these three bills. The Urban Education Network of Iowa and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa are also not registered on any of the Chapter 20 bills as of today.

Added: Sweeping changes predicted for public schools if collective bargaining bill passes (Press-Citizen)

Dissent Doesn’t Ruin Everything

Earlier this week, the ICCSD school board approved moving ahead with putting an approximately $190 million bond in front of voters, likely in September. (See coverage at the Press-Citizen and The Gazette.)

Concerns have been expressed about a lack of a unanimous board vote, suggesting that the bond has already been undermined by the two dissenting board directors. It hasn’t.

This bond is going to succeed or fail based on the ability of its proponents to persuade at least 60% of the voters to pass the bond.

It is nice to think that Directors Hemingway and Liebig could have erased community concerns–and guaranteed passage of the bond–simply by changing their votes. But it doesn’t work that way.* Giving voice to dissenting opinions and concerns doesn’t create dissension and concerns within the community, but it is essential for ensuring vigorous public debate in matters of interest to the public.

The school board vote earlier this week wasn’t the end of debate on the bond and the Facilities Master Plan. That debate will continue through election day and beyond, as the school board continues to make decisions about altering and carrying out the FMP.

The fact that some people (continue to hold and) express opinions contrary to our own is super annoying. But expressions of dissent have also been an ongoing invitation for proponents of the FMP/bond to work for a defensible FMP process, a defensible FMP, a defensible bond proposal, and to make the case for why voters should support it all with a vote in favor of the bond. We’ll see how effectively it was all done on election night.

*It doesn’t work that way unless Directors Hemingway and Liebig are the only members of the community with concerns. In which case, don’t worry! They each only have one vote to cast in the bond election and can’t, alone, cause the bond to fail.

Postsecondary Remedial Math Data

The Iowa Department of Education announced a new website today, Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports, which, among other things, is meant to report student enrollment in remedial math and English courses at two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. The website offers information by individual Iowa high school and by demographic groups.

Radio Iowa reports:

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says the report provides “more precise information” to help craft new policies and spending priorities.

But, as always, details matter, because the definition of remedial math is non-credit bearing math courses. Remedial math is not defined as retaking math courses already passed for credit at the high school level. Remedial math is not defined as having to take math courses that are pre-requisites for first year math courses for your major. Parents paying college prices for math courses already taken in high school might disagree with the State’s definition of “remedial.”

At the University of Iowa, credit bearing course work begins with College Algebra, even though many majors require students to be prepared to start with a pre-calculus or a calculus course. Only students placing into Basic Algebra will be counted as enrolling in a remedial math course. Consequently, the “more precise information” in these reports, don’t actually help school districts understand whether their students are having to retake math courses already passed at the high school or whether their students are really prepared to start with the first year math courses required for their selected majors. In short, the remedial course enrollment percentages will look the same for Iowa high schools that are preparing the majority of their students well for placement in calculus courses and those that are preparing the majority of their students for placement in College Algebra and Trigonometry courses.

This statistic, like high school graduation rates, isn’t difficult to game. We could drive remediation rates even lower by pressuring four-year institutions to grant credit for Basic Algebra, too. Despite all the talk about the importance of STEM education in Iowa, we still aren’t collecting (sharing?) the information we need to assess how well schools are preparing students for first year college math courses.

Smaller but not (yet) SmarterBalanced Government

In May 2016, explaining his veto of Section 18 and Section 19, subsection 5 of SF2323,  Governor Branstad had this to say about the Smarter Balanced assessments:

I am unable to approve the items designated as Section 18, and Section 19, subsection 5, in their entirety. These items unduly delay Iowa’s transition to a new statewide academic assessment system. The Iowa Department of Education can best serve students by moving forward immediately to prepare for implementation of the new assessment system on July 1, 2017. School administrators and teachers are eager for a new assessment system that is closely aligned with Iowa’s high state academic standards. By providing better information about students’ academic progress, the new assessment system will improve instruction. A well-aligned assessment is a key step toward providing a globally competitive education.

Interestingly, Governor Branstad referenced neither statewide assessments nor state academic standards when he delivered his 2017 Condition of the State address to the Iowa Legislature earlier this week. In addition, Governor Branstad declined to fund the Department of Education’s request for $10 million for LEA assessments in FY 2018 in his proposed budget, though he has proposed $6.1 million for LEA assessment in FY 2019. Thus, the Smarter Balanced assessments remain an unfunded mandate for the upcoming school year.

Meanwhile, Senator Sinclair (R-Wayne), new chair of the Senate Education Committee has wasted no time in addressing statewide assessments. On Tuesday, she filed SSB 1001, a proposed Committee on Education bill that would strike Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b)(2) and (3), which are the subparagraphs changing the statewide assessment requirements and creating the Assessment Task Force. The subcommittee met earlier today, with at least IASB organizing to advocate for aligned assessments–and presumably against the proposed bill.

As of today, the Iowa Association of School Boards, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, Urban Education Network of Iowa, and School Administrators of Iowa are registered against SSB 1001. Also registered against this bill is Reaching Higher Iowa (see here for Board of Directors and here for corporate sponsors).

The Iowa Catholic Conference, Professional Educators of Iowa, and ACT are registered for this bill.

Registered as undecided on the bill are Advocacy Strategies, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, the Iowa Department of Education, the Area Education Agencies of Iowa, the Board of Regents, the Iowa State Education Association, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the Iowa Chamber Alliance.

Stay tuned. It could be an interesting legislative session for assessment.

Added (Rogers is the new chair of the House Education Committee):

Added: KCRG is reporting tonight that the Smarter Balanced assessments are officially on hold:

The state had planned to launch the Smarter Balanced assessments for the 2017-18 school year. Department of Education spokesperson Staci Hupp confirmed the department has been told to put that work on hold so the legislature can review options for assessments.

SSA Reference Numbers FY2018

I occasionally find myself trying to find dollar figures for SSA, as SSA is frequently reported in percentages that can’t easily be compared to other budget item spending.

This year, Governor Branstad referenced specific dollar figures in his Condition of the State address [$78.8 million for FY2018 and $63.5 million for FY2019 from the actual speech, which are slightly higher than numbers in the speech as prepared].

For future reference, here are dollar figures for various SSA percentages for FY 2018 from the Legislative Services Agency.

These numbers are complicated by the fact that the Teacher Leadership program grant has ended and the money for the third year of the grants has rolled over to the regular education funding streams. The teacher leadership money is $54 million and accounts for most of the reason the numbers listed at each percent of growth are so much higher for FY2018 than for FY2019. Governor Branstad’s numbers don’t match the LSA numbers for 2% growth, in part, because he elected to exclude the teacher leadership money from the “new money” proposed in his budget. However, legislative discussions of percent growth will be based upon the numbers provided by the LSA, which must account for those teacher leadership dollars as “new” because they are new to this particular funding stream.

  • 0.0%                –$62.2 million
  • 0.5%                –$81.0 million
  • 1.0%                –$100.0 million
  • 1.5%                –$119.2 million
  • Gov. proposal—$141.0 million [LSA puts this at an increase of $132 per student for a total of $6,723 per student for the 2017-18 school year]
  • 2.0%                –$141.4 million
  • 2.5%               –$158.7 million
  • 3.0%               –$177.8 million
  • 3.5%               –$197.5 million
  • 4.0%               –$217.8 million

Updated Iowa School Report Card

The Iowa Department of Education has released updated data and several new features in the Iowa School Report Card.

The new features include two new categories in the “Closing Achievement Gap” measure, which now includes data by race and ethnicity. It also includes results of a survey of teachers on parent involvement in their child’s school and education.

The Iowa School Report Card rates individual public schools, but not school districts. Answers to frequently asked questions from parents about the Iowa School Report Card are available here and a quick guide is available here.

The current list of schools format is easier to navigate than previous versions, but I think it could be vastly improved by allowing schools to be selected for side-by-side comparisons (schools within the same district, schools with similar demographics). The DE could also improve navigation by allowing the user to open a window that displays all of the schools for a selected district.

Another shortcoming, I think, is calculating a single achievement gap with all subgroups together, rather than an achievement gap for each subgroup as it can mask some particularly awful achievement gaps for some subgroups of students if other subgroups are performing relatively well, or vice versa. It might also be more useful to see math and reading proficiency as separate indicators, rather than aggregated together. See also the problem of reporting school by school, as data for subgroups with fewer than ten students must be redacted. However, I suppose no one said the rankings had to actually be useful, just that they had to be done–though I see now that the DE describes the Iowa School Report Card as “align[ing] with Department efforts to provide Iowans easier access to meaningful education statistics and to pair accountability and support for schools.”

Here are the current ratings for ICCSD schools (linked to school report page, which will open in a new window):

Exceptional (none)




Needs Improvement


Tate High School and Alexander Elementary are unable to be rated.

ICCSD Science Program Proposal, Revisted

At least one ICCSD school board member, Lori Roetlin, is asking to continue the conversation about the District’s plan to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). (See Roetlin’s guest opinions in the Press-Citizen or The Gazette). One of her concerns is the acceleration plan that requires students to double up on science courses in either 8th or 9th grade, and the effect that will have on student opportunity to take other courses.

The administration’s position is that the NGSS Earth and Space Science standards cannot be covered in less than a year-long course. That might be true if we start from the position that all district 7th, 8th, and 9th graders will be required to take the exact same science courses. But what if we start from the position that it we could offer a regular sequence of courses that would cover the 7th and 8th grade standards plus the high school earth and space science standards in three years and offer a separate, accelerated 7th and 8th grade course sequence that would cover all of those standards in two years. Could we do it?

I think the answer is probably yes. The short reason why is that the need for accelerated ( or time compressed) science course pathways was anticipated and model course pathways that show how all the middle school (grades 6-8) standards plus all the high school standards could be covered in four years (grades 6-9) or five years (grades 6-10) have already been created.

We are only talking about accelerating the earth and space science standards, not all the high school science standards, so let’s see what we can do. But first, some background information.

You can find all the NGSS standards and other information here. The Iowa State Board of Education complicated things by adopting the middle school standards as grade specific standards, meaning that we can’t just follow the accelerated model pathways because Iowa requires a different, grade-level specific ordering of the middle school standards. Find those Iowa-specific requirements by performance expectation here or core idea here. Find the NGSS earth and space science standards by disciplinary core idea for middle school here and high school here.

Note that the Iowa State Board of Education adopted the performance expectations as the science standards. The performance expectations combine a disciplinary core idea (content knowledge), a science or engineering practice or practices, and a cross-cutting concept. These performance expectations are found in the large boxes with white background. The language in red in this section outlines important clarifications or limitations. Be sure to read these to clarify for yourself the level of difficulty of the standards.

Somewhat confusingly, in my opinion, these performance expectations represent a way that Iowa schools can combine disciplinary core ideas, practices, and concepts, but not the only way that schools can combine them. For this reason, I think it is helpful to look at the actual content knowledge to be covered, which can be found in the orange boxes labeled Disciplinary Core Ideas.

So here’s one way we could do this (click to make the images bigger or find the pdf version here):


I didn’t suggest any additions to the 6th grade science course because it makes sense not to if we are going to require placement in pre-algebra or algebra in 7th grade for placement in accelerated science coursework.  For 7th and 8th grades, I just added the corresponding high school standards.

These look like a lot of standards, but I think there are three things to consider. First, some of the content–particularly at the middle school level–may not actually be that challenging for accelerated science students. Hey, kids, the sun is actually a star with an approximate lifespan of ten billion years! Here is a model of the solar system and an explanation of why we experience seasons or solar and lunar eclipses. We can use rocks to tell how old the earth is, but don’t worry, we don’t expect you to recall the names of any specific geological time periods or events that happened within them. And so on.

Second, the five-year model course pathway allocates thirty-one standards to the 6th grade course and thirty-seven to the 7th grade course so, maybe, twenty-nine for 7th grade and thirty-eight for 8th grade isn’t too many for advanced students. Also, keep in mind that some of the high school content is an extension of middle school content, for example, understanding planetary orbits without and then with Kepler’s Laws of orbital motion (but limited to two bodies, and no calculus). In which case, we perhaps, aren’t adding as much content as it might appear.

Third, I think instructional choices will play a huge role in how much class time is really required to cover all the earth and space science standards at the minimally required level. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that some methods of covering the material could be more time-efficient (and more effective) than others. Furthermore, accelerated students may not need as much time and practice to learn the material.

Alternately, at least for some students, a ninth grade earth and space science option might be more appealing if the administration could produce an honors syllabus and recommended textbook that demonstrated that students would be appropriately challenged. Without that, it isn’t hard to anticipate some students and parents being just as disappointed with the earth and space science course as some students and parents are with Foundations III. However, I still think the most interested and ambitious science students would prefer getting the high school earth and space science standards out of the way in junior high.

The bottom line for me is that all standards for all students isn’t the same as all standards for all students at the same pace (in your choice of 8th or 9th grade). The district can and should offer more options for accelerated science course work.

Is my proposal too simplistic? Possibly. Are there other options? Absolutely! How about shifting the middle school and high school earth and human activity standards to an 8th grade trimester-length course on climate change to reduce the number of standards covered in the accelerated course? Feel free to share your ideas on those in the comments.