Iowa vs. Florida and Massachusetts, part 2

Here is a letter I sent to Mary Mascher:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me at the April Johnson County Democrats Central Committee meeting about Iowa’s 2009 NAEP reading results.  As I noted at the meeting, in 2007, only four states had significantly higher scores for 4th grade reading.  In 2009, twelve states have significantly higher scores than Iowa (221) including Florida (226) and Massachusetts (234).  Florida significantly outscores Iowa in the following student groups: white, Hispanic, low income, and students with disabilities.  Massachusetts significantly outscores Iowa in the following student groups: white, black, low income, and students with disabilities.

Iowa’s results are disappointing, but it is even more disappointing that the Iowa Department of Education has not issued a response or even an acknowledgement of the 2009 NAEP Reading Results.  We can ignore the bad news, but that does not change the reality that something is wrong with Iowa’s K-12 education policy.  As I have learned from my children’s preschool, when something is not working for a child in the classroom, it is time for the teacher to examine her classroom, her approach to the child, and her curricular and instructional choices.  Then she makes appropriate, thoughtful changes; she does not wait for or expect the child to change on his own.  Public school teachers, obviously, have less flexibility to make changes in their classrooms.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon elected officials to investigate whether current teacher preparation requirements, professional development programming, instructional practices and curricular choices are supporting teacher efforts to provide Iowa children with the best education our public schools can offer.  Mere assurances from the Department of Education and the AEA that the Iowa Core Curriculum will work cannot be accepted in light of the NAEP results that establish Iowa is falling behind other states, let alone world-class standards.

I do not believe that Massachusetts or Florida have better children than Iowa, I hope you do not believe that either.  It is unconscionable to excuse failing schools by shifting blame to things that cannot be changed about the students (race, socio-economic status and disability) while other states are helping students with these same attributes attain higher levels of academic achievement.  I hope that my fellow Democrats can move public discussion of education policy beyond issues of teacher pay and cheerleading for the Iowa Core and Race to the Top.  We need an open and honest public discussion about what can be done to support teachers with preparation, professional development, curriculum and instructional changes, and administrative leadership that enable them to improve student academic achievement.  We also need to have an open and honest public discussion about whether education dollars are being spent wisely, in ways that efficiently support student academic achievement, or whether too much of education funding is being devoted to unnecessary administrative expenditures, deficient curriculum and instructional practices, unproductive professional development, and inessential technology purchases.  I look forward to continuing our discussion of these and other education issues.


Karen W.