Category Archives: Iowa Ed

A Few Links

Too many tabs open, too little time to blog:

Education Week reports that Arne Duncan is almost out of carrots.

Also from Education Week, life is good right now for the assessment industry:

For testing companies, that means there’s money to be made at the state level, and in local districts. Whether this results in tests that lead to improved classroom instruction or academic gains remains to be seen.

One more from Education Week: Next Generation Science Standards (currently being considered for adoption in Iowa) may be even more challenging to assess than the common core.

The first Iowa Student Learning Institute was held this past Saturday, and by all (Twitter) accounts I saw, it was a great success (#isli on Twitter if you missed it). By the way, it looks to me like their list of what students would have if they could have what they wanted could be shortened to one word, Montessori.

William Pannapacker in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Screening Out the Introverts.

Finally, over at Apt. 11D they have been discussing Lisa Miller’s article on ethical parenting in New York Magazine. I honestly don’t have a sense of how much this sort of thing is actually–or perceived–to be going on locally, but I do think the discussion was interesting.

From Laura in the comments:

Perhaps the problem isn’t that rich people hire tutors. Perhaps the problem is that poor people can’t. Perhaps the problem is that people need to hire tutors, and that schools aren’t teaching all kids equally.

If that is the case, how much can the diversity policy on its own really help?

Prospective School Board Candidates

The Iowa Association of School Boards has produced a video for you:

Key dates for 2013:

  • Monday, July 8th is the fist day to file nomination petitions.
  • Thursday, August 1st is the last day to file nomination petitions.
  • Tuesday, September 10th is School Election Day.

Nomination papers are to be filed with the secretary of the Board of Education of the school district.  Check the county auditor website for signature requirements (generally 1% of the registered voters in the school district or 50 signatures, whichever is less).

Interim Director Named

Duane Magee, Executive Director of the Board of Educational Examiners since July 2012, has been named interim director of the Iowa Department of Education.

Prior to joining the BOEE, Magee held administrative positions in the Harlan Community School District and the Waukee Community School District.

Magee begins his work as interim director June 24th and will serve during Branstad’s ongoing nationwide search for a permanent director.

So far–unsurprisingly–we are apparently staying the course.  From the Governor’s Office’s press release:

“This is a great opportunity to continue the great work of Jason Glass and to ensure continuity within the department as a new leader is chosen,” said Magee. “I look forward to serving in this new capacity and moving Iowa’s education system forward.”

Duane Magee is on Twitter as @MageeDT

State School Board Retreat 2013

The Iowa State Board of Education met for its annual retreat last week.  The agenda is available here but be forewarned that clicking on the tabs will download pdf files (rather than opening them in a new browser window).

Reducing the Achievement Gap update: Tab A is Michelle Hosp’s PowerPoint presentation.  This is essentially an overview of how the State Board plans to approach improving reading instruction in Iowa:

  1. C4K
  2. Universal reading screening assessments for all students and progress monitoring assessments for students identified for additional instruction or intervention:  Formative Assessment System for Teachers earlyReading, CBMReading, and aReading; and Individual Growth and Development Indicators.
  3. RtI (Response to Intervention) data system to collect assessment data and to provide access to the data at the teacher, building, district, AEA, or state level.  Check out the TIES (Technology and Information Educational Services) Iowa promotional video.
  4. If less than eighty percent of students are proficient on the universal screening assessment, examine reading instruction practices.
  5. Identify a standard treatment protocol for use with students identified as at-risk during the universal screening process.

Assessment Redesign: Tab B is Dave Tilly’s twenty-eight page handout which includes Iowa’s current teacher evaluation requirements, an overview of the Federal Flexibility Waiver process, a letter from the USDE about the status of Iowa’s flexibility waiver, and notes on teacher evaluation and student achievement data.

The student achievement data section may be particularly interesting for those following the VAM debate in Iowa.  In a “slide” labeled “Value Added Adds Quantitative Data to Teacher Evaluations” we learn that “‘[v]alue added’ is a statistical method of estimating the effect of a teacher’s instruction on his or her students’ test scores.”  On the same page we also learn that Iowa is one of many states “developing systems of aligning teacher related student achievement data (including value added measures) with teacher educ[ation] programs.”

The discussion questions (see pages 2 and 3) look interesting; I hope the minutes are detailed.

Priority Setting: Tab C is the draft of policy development priorities (which I assume is meant to be a draft for 2013-14 and not 2012-2013?):

Competency-Based Education.

Online Learning and Other Technological Advances.  One of the following bullet points is “[s]upport a requirement that all students take at least one class online”.  What is the purpose of this?  To acclimate students to online learning options for learning after high school or as a move towards a different model of schooling?

Improving Teacher and Leadership Preparation

One of the following bullet points is to study accountability (especially use of student achievement data).

Reducing Achievement Gaps.  Based on Michelle Hosp’s presentation, this seems to be largely about improving reading instruction.

The goal ought to be effective classroom instruction that minimizes reading failure and the need for intervention, in other words, getting reading instruction right for as many children as possible the first time (in the classroom) so that as few children as possible require intervention.  This is a difficult goal to achieve when there seems to be so much resistance to discussing whole language, balanced literacy, phonics, or the five elements of science based reading instruction (see generally posts in the reading category).  Much safer to talk about data and assessments and standard treatment protocols.

While avoiding the discussion might keep the peace, it also likely deprives some number of Iowa students of the benefits of effective reading instruction.  From Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science by Lousia Moats (1999), pages 9-10:

The tragedy here is that most reading failure is unnecessary.  We now know that classroom teaching itself, when it includes a range of research-based components and practices, can prevent and ameliorate reading difficulty.  Although home factors do influence how well and how soon students read, informed classroom instruction that targets specific language and reading skills beginning in kindergarten enhances success for all but a few students with moderate or severe learning disabilities.  Scientists now estimate that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read at a level constrained only by their reasoning and listening comprehension abilities.  It is clear that students in high-risk populations need not fail at the rate they do.  When placed into schools with effective principals and well-prepared and well- supported teachers, African-American, Hispanic, or students who are economically disadvantaged can learn to read as well as their more advantaged peers.  Further, students who lack the prerequisite awareness of sounds, symbols, and word meanings can overcome their initial disadvantage if teachers incorporate critical skills into lessons directly, systematically, and actively.  Thus, while parents, tutors, and the community can contribute to reading success, classroom instruction must be viewed as the critical factor in preventing reading problems and must be the primary focus for change. Ensuring effective classroom instructional practice is well within the purview of educational policymakers. (Emphasis added.)

Evaluating teachers using student test scores and providing mentors and teacher collaboration time might gets us to widespread implementation of science based reading instruction in the classroom, but it is far from certain, especially without clear understanding, guidance, and support from the DE, the State Board, and the new Iowa Reading Research Center.

If we continue to avoid this conversation, there are more potential reading pitfalls ahead as we implement Common Core English Language Arts Standards (which were incorporated into the Iowa Core).  From Louisa Moats again, this time from her article Reconciling the Common Core State Standards with Reading Research (HT: Alecia RahnBlakeslee):

The lofty goals of the CCSS and the realities of student learning as we understand them from research may not easily be reconciled. Students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia, comprise at least 30% of the population (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). About 34% of the population as a whole is “below basic” on the National Assessment of Academic Progress in fourth grade. Often, up to 70–80% of students in high poverty areas enter school at risk for reading failure. Mixed in as “poor readers” are all those who simply have not been taught how to read or who do not speak English. These facts imply that raising standards and expectations, without sufficient attention to the known causes and remedies for reading and academic failure, and without a substantial influx of new resources to educate and support teachers, is not likely to benefit students with mild, moderate, or severe learning difficulties. Rather, the stage is set for those students to suffer adverse consequences, such as forced grade repetitions, denial of promotion or diplomas, and irrelevant requirements that do not, in fact, enable students to be more ready for college or career. (Emphasis added.)

Moats goes on to identify specific shortcomings with the standards:

With the CCSS’s emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, more of the nation’s attention is currently focused on higher-level comprehension, leaving almost no room for discussion of beginning reading and the needs of students with reading difficulties. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Clark, Kirschner, & Sweller, 2012; Rosenshine, 2012) are receiving much less discussion than they deserve. The risk, of course, is that even larger numbers of students will fail to become independent readers and writers.

Currently, the standards document obfuscates important relationships among word recognition, spelling, fluency, and comprehension (e.g., Mehta, Foorman, Branum-Martin, & Taylor, 2005) that provide the rationale for a multi-component approach. For example, from the standards document, a reader cannot learn that speech sound blending supports word recognition, that spelling supports vocabulary, that understanding of morphology speeds word recognition, or that oral language capacities are the underpinning for written language. One would not realize that handwriting, spelling, and sentence composition support higher level composition (Berninger & Wolf, 2009). Thus, it is vital that consumers of the standards document recognize its limitations as an instructional guide and look elsewhere for trustworthy, research-based guidance on curriculum and professional development.  (Emphasis added.)

The RtI data system and the assessments might be a step in the right direction, but I’d sure like to hear something more from the State Board, the DE, and the IRRC that indicates that they really understand early reading instruction issues and see improving classroom instruction as a top priority.

Legislative Update 6/10

Governor Branstad is already talking about legislative priorities for next year.  KCRG reports he plans to hold another state summit on bullying and to try to pass anti-bullying legislation next year.

Coverage of anti-bullying legislation from this year’s session on this blog is available here and includes some issues raised by proposed legislation and links to discussions at other blogs.

The First Amendment issues are of particular interest to me, and I recommend taking the time to read Eugene Volokh’s blog post on the issue in the context of a Minnesota “bullying” bill and his written testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights if you haven’t already.

Details of this year’s Bullying Prevention Summit will apparently be announced mid-August.

Videos from last year’s summit are available here (try searching for bullying) including:

  • 24/7 Bullying in the Digital Age
  • Sick from Bullying
  • Leadership Makes the Difference

Extreme Centralization

As part of education reform in Iowa, we have seen a push to further centralize public education decision-making.

Marc Tucker apparently thinks we haven’t gone far enough with our system redesign and offers his assessment of the problems and his recommended solutions in a two-part blog post: Governing American Education: The Challenge and Governing American Education: Some Modest Proposals.

His modest proposals?  Abolish both state boards of education and local boards of education.  Districts would report directly to mayors, and departments of education to governors.  Remove powers from local boards and superintendents and place them with the state departments of education.  End local school funding mechanisms and have local schools entirely funded by the state.

The federal government’s role in education should be restricted to funding education research; monitoring national education performance; gathering and reporting a wide range of data on the American education system; providing funding intended to help low wealth states spend more money on education than they otherwise could, provided they are willing to make a tax effort equal to the tax effort made by wealthier states; and acting as a watchdog to protect the civil rights of Americans in the field of education.

A new intergovernmental agency should be established at which the top officials of the federal education department and the top education officials of the states meet together to agree on certain national functions that need to be carried out, such as the development and revision of national standards for student achievement; the development and maintenance of a national system for accountability in the schools and a national system for reporting student and school accomplishment.  Under this arrangement, the current contention for dominance in this arena between the states and the federal government would come to an end, for both would have to agree for any proposal to succeed.

Despite the apparent allusion to satire in the post title, I’m afraid Tucker means us to take these ideas seriously.

I think that proponents of centralization schemes must have enormous faith that 1) state actors are both more competent and less corruptible than local actors (note to Marc Tucker: directors of state departments of education are offered trips too) and 2) that education is primarily a scientific enterprise best left to the professionals, rather than primarily a values-driven enterprise, some practices of which can be informed by science.

Marc Tucker’s description of the problems (shrinking departments of education and local school board members plied with all-expense paid vacations) doesn’t especially sound like Iowa to me.  As for his insistence that “[w]e can no longer afford a system in which no one is in charge and no one can be held accountable for the performance of the system.”?  Perhaps the answer isn’t radical centralization of power, but restoring decision-making and political accountability for those decisions to the local level.

The Education Gap

The education gap has been a hot topic in recent weeks:

At Education Week, Deborah Meier writes about Addressing the Gap Between the Rich and ‘Others’ and Stephen Sawchuk reports  on a Sociology of Education paper in Within Schools, Novice Teachers Paired With Struggling Students.  Jennifer Hemmingsen at The Gazette touched on the same study in her column Do schools reinforce achievement gaps?  Over at Apt. 11d they have been discussing No Rich Child Left Behind from the New York Times.

This comment by cranberry  at Apt. 11d particularly struck me:

I am very worried about the sales job being done to push computerized education. As prophesied in an Atlantic article some decades ago, it does seem the poor will have computers, while the rich will have teachers.

So when I read Shawn Cornally’s Transforming School is About Options, Not “Getting it Right” about education options in the corridor I couldn’t help noticing that most of them require the financial ability to opt out of the public school system.

Why aren’t we seeing more options offered in Iowa public schools?

In a recent blog post on the freedom to quit, Peter Gray hints at one possible answer:

Governments can brutalize people who can’t leave.  When people can leave, governments have to figure out how to make people want to stay; or else there will be nobody left to govern.  The first to leave are often those who are most competent and valuable.

Gray then goes on to observe that “[i]n general, children are the most brutalized of people, not because they are small and weak, but because they don’t have the same freedoms to quit that adults have.”

When schooling is compulsory, schools are, by definition, prisons.  A prison is a place where one is forced to be and within which people are not free to choose their own activities, spaces, or associates. Children cannot walk away from school, and within the school children cannot walk away from mean teachers, oppressive and pointless assignments, or cruel classmates.

It is great to have a mix of independent school options, but is this how we want it–options only for those who can afford to walk away from the public schools?

Future of Iowa Ed Reform [updated]

The big news today is that Jason Glass is looking for other work and is one of three finalists for superintendent at the Eagle County School District in Colorado.  The job would mean a pay raise, a return to a familiar community, and presumably much less travel.

@desmoinesdem, who blogs at Bleeding Heartland, tweeted that she wasn’t surprised as Iowa education reform is winding down.  While that may be true, although we still haven’t seen much progress on HF 215 in recent weeks, there is still much work to be done implementing education reform.

Competency-based education is still a work in progress.

Glass has been a proponent of the Smarter Balanced Assessments; there will be work to do to prepare for implementing the assessments if the Legislature approves them this year or more advocacy work to be done to convince the Legislature to approve them next session if they don’t.

The Senate version of the education reform bill grants the DE the power to approve alternative teacher career path, leadership, and compensation frameworks.

The House version of the education reform bill empowers the state board to adopt rules establishing a statewide system of teacher evaluation and performance review requirements and evaluation requirements for administrators.  The House version also empowers the Director of the DE to “develop core knowledge and skill criteria for the evaluation and advancement of teachers, and for teacher career development” and to “develop and implement a coaching and support system for teachers aligned with the Iowa teacher career paths, leadership, and compensation framework.”

There are important decisions yet to be made about how to measure student outcomes for purposes of evaluating teacher performance if HF 215 passes.

Legislators’ reactions reported in The Gazette, indicated that there is little concern that this news will affect education reform efforts.  However, a change in leadership could affect implementation or the direction of future efforts.  Consider efforts in other states to reject or delay the implementation of Common Core standards or to withdraw from the PARCC and SBAC testing consortia.

If Glass is offered the superintendent job, we’ll just have to wait and see if Branstad chooses a successor who will stay the course or one who will chart a new direction.

Update: from Radio Iowa:

Glass was asked if his departure would hurt the reform effort. “Well, the education reform agenda in Iowa was built to be independent of any one person. So it was an agenda that was built to be a right fit for the state. It is still a right fit for the state,” Glass said.