More on Pointing Fingers

In yesterday’s post we saw the Press-Citizen reminding us that:

At the time [of the denial of Iowa’s NCLB waiver application], Branstad released a statement blaming state legislators for doing “too little to improve our schools despite repeated warnings.”

So, I thought I’d share a letter I wrote to a legislator following Branstad’s 2011 Iowa Education Summit.

Dear Representative:

I am sorry you were unable to attend the Iowa Education Summit.  My father-in-law and I enjoyed the rare opportunity to hear education policy leaders in person and to chat with Iowans from around the state about education reform.

I just wanted to share two observations from the Summit, the first of which is that I am afraid that the two most important statements made by panelists at the Summit are likely to be overlooked:  Kate Walsh’s statement that if Iowa wants to improve student achievement we need to get serious about science based reading instruction and Matthew Ladner’s statement that literacy is the single most important thing for summit attendees to work on after the summit.

I hope we can all agree that learning how to read is essential and yet instead of focusing on effective reading instruction, policy makers prefer to talk about strategic pay, universal preschool, and STEM initiatives.  None of these policies can significantly improve student achievement if we continue with reading instruction as usual in Iowa.

Fortunately, it is unnecessary to reinvent the wheel.  We already know the components of an effective reading program: systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, guided oral fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies.  We also already know that Iowa teacher preparation programs are not adequately teaching these five components and how to effectively implement them in the classroom.  We should adopt, at the very least, a passing score on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure: Foundations of Reading exam as a requirement for an elementary teaching license to ensure that teacher preparation programs address science based reading instruction and to hold teacher candidates accountable for learning the five components of effective instruction.  Efforts will also need to be made to develop professional development for current teachers and to inform school boards, administrators, and DE/AEA consultants about effective reading instruction.

My second observation is that it appears that Iowa education policy will remain focused on mandating how education gets done (inquiry methods, longer school days/years, charter schools, whole language, technology, universal preschool, more money) instead of focusing on what we hope students will achieve and allowing schools and parents the flexibility to determine how to best meet the standards.  To that end, I would like to see the legislature pass reforms focused on providing information and options so that parents and educators can make informed choices to ensure each child educated in Iowa has the opportunity to develop to their highest academic potential and to pursue an educational path that suits their talents, interests, and ambitions.

Iowa cannot lead the way to higher student achievement if we follow the crowd on Common Core Standards.  Rather than mandate uniformity, we should adopt higher standards and allow room for innovation and flexibility for individual needs to be met in different ways.  We should focus on information and options instead of one-size-fits all policy.  Most importantly, we need literacy to be the top priority for Iowa education policy; without it, not much else we offer students matters.  Then, we might have a chance at becoming a leader in education once again.


Karen W

Here is Figure 5.4 from The 2011 Annual Condition of Education Report:

2011 COE Fig 54

Approximately 1 in 8 Iowa students who don’t qualify for free-or-reduced lunch are not proficient readers by Iowa proficiency standards.*  Approximately 1 in 3 Iowa students who do qualify for free-or-reduced lunch are not proficient readers by Iowa proficiency standards.

Here are the Iowa State Board of Education priorities for this year:

  • online learning
  • competency-based education
  • reducing the achievement gap

Notice that  literacy and effective early reading instruction are not specifically priorities of the State Board.

Who exactly is doing too little to improve Iowa schools?

*More on proficiency standards tomorrow.