Category Archives: StudentsFirst Iowa

StudentsFirst Out of Iowa

In case you missed it (I did), Politico reported last week that StudentsFirst had pulled out of five states, including Iowa (HT Diane Ravitch).

Sure enough, even though the StudentsFirst Iowa page has not yet been taken down, a visit to the Iowa Legislature website and a search for the client StudentsFirst confirms that the group is no longer represented by lobbyists:



Legislative Update 3/18 [updated]

Update: Huffington Post reports that twenty high school students were suspended for retweeting gossip about a high school teacher. Is this where we are headed in Iowa? Do we want students to lose days of instructional time as punishment for off-campus speech? What other tweets about teachers or administrators could be punished under a policy like this?

Last Friday was the second funnel deadline. The House Democrats and House Republicans have produced two slightly different lists of education bills that survived the second funnel.

Both of the anti-bullying bills, HF 2409 and SF 2318, survived the funnel.

SF 2318, as amended by S-5060 [adopted by voice vote] and S-5073 [adopted by voice vote], passed [26-19] in the Senate today. S-5060, described during debate as “largely technical,” made a number of changes, including changing the requirement that training be incorporated into individual teacher and administrator professional development plans to school district or attendance center professional development plans, changing “research-based” to “research- and outcome-based”, and changing “safety and security” to strike “and security”. S-5060 also removed the 3.0 additional F.T.E. in the DE and grants the DE emergency rule-making authority to implement the new sections 256.100 Office of support and analysis for safe schools and 256.101 School climate improvement grant program. S-5073 creates an exemption to the varsity interscholastic athletic contest and competition ineligibility for students open enrolling into another district during the first ninety days of enrollment if the resident district determines that the student was subject to a founded incident of bullying or harassment as defined in 280.28 while attending school in the resident district.

Three other attempts to amend the bill failed. S-5074 [22-25] on quick inspection appears to be a strike and replace amendment to insert the language of the House bill. S-5075 and S-5076 [both ruled out of order] would have added training on free speech to training requirements. These two amendments were determined to be “unduly broad.”

Video of the Senate debate on Monday and Tuesday of this bill is available at the Iowa Legislature website.

Lobbyists for StudentsFirst and the Urban Education Network of Iowa are registered for the Senate bill, ACLU-IA is registered against (read about their concerns here), with ISEA, IASB, SAI, DE, and the AEAs registered as undecided.

The debate isn’t overly long, and had some interesting moments.

One concern with anti-bullying bills is that the definition of bullying can become overly broad. Consider the apparent definition of cyberbullying or online bullying from an article in today’s Globe and Mail, Teachers are low on the list students turn to when cyberbullied (H/T @SheilaSpeaking): “said or done something mean or cruel to someone online” or “that someone has said or done something mean or cruel to them online that made them feel badly.”

Sen. Hogg (D-Linn) recognized this over-broadness issue at one point, stating “lots of bad behavior isn’t bullying or harassment.” Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a recognition that some bad behavior–mean, hurtful, or offensive speech–may, nonetheless, be constitutionally-protected. This is particularly concerning with regard to the expansion of school authority off school grounds; there are some permissible limitations on student speech at school, but it doesn’t follow that those same limitations can properly be placed on student speech away from school.

It is nice to think that everyone understands and respects the First Amendment implications and limitations in policing speech, but discussion around a local school board’s proposed public comment policy (see, for example, Chris’s post here) suggests this isn’t the case.

In arguing against an amendment that would have made investigation of alleged incidents of bullying or harassment occurring off school grounds discretionary, Sen. Hogg argued that granting immunity for failure to act created the wrong incentive, and stated something along the lines that the bill is giving them the tools, and expects them to act.

Missing from the debate were concerns that the bill might encourage school surveillance of student social media use or recognition that students can take steps–without school administrator involvement–to protect themselves on social media (see, for example, Twitter’s online abuse page and suggestions for helping targets of online abuse). In addition, schools can educate students about bullying issues and prevention without having expanded authority to investigate and discipline students for off-campus incidents.

Interestingly, as Iowa moves to make the DE and schools primarily responsible for bullying prevention and response efforts, the Globe and Mail reports that:

[The study] found that teachers are far down the list of people that students consider turning to for help when faced with online harassment. Parents come first, followed by other trusted adults and friends. In some cases, students said they would rather talk face to face with their own bullies, or simply ignore the problem and hope it resolves itself, than ask teachers to get involved. The researchers believe that highly punitive school policies are a factor.

Bully Free Iowa

Bullying remains a hot topic again this year at the Iowa Legislature, with bills surviving the funnel deadline in both the House and the Senate.

School district harassment and bullying policies are covered by Iowa Code 280.28 Harassment and bullying prohibited–policy–immunity.

HSB 525 is the “Bully Free Iowa Act of 2014” proposed by Governor Branstad. The bill is only four pages long and proposes the following changes to the Iowa Code:

  • 256.7(33) directing the state board of education to adopt rules for annual notification to all school districts and accredited nonpublic schools of the availability of training meeting the requirements of proposed new subsection 272.2(19) relating to bullying prevention, suicide prevention, and the BOEE’s code of professional conduct and ethics.
  • 272.2(19) directing the BOEE to adopt rules requiring all individuals applying for or renewing a license, certificate, authorization, or statement of recognition issued by the BOEE to completed training relating to bullying prevention, suicide prevention, and the BOEE’s code of professional conduct and ethics, to the extent that training is made available by the state at no charge to the trainee.
  • 280.28(2)(a) amending “electronic” to include social networking sites, and any other electronic communication site, device, or means.
  • 280.28(2)(c) amending “trait or characteristic of the student” to include behavior, friendship or relationship with others, or any distinguishing characteristic. This paragraph shall be construed broadly to achieve the purposes of this section.
  • 280.28(3)(h) to require school district policies to include a procedure for prompt notification of the parents or guardians of all students directly involved in a reported incident of harassment or bullying.
  • 280.28(9) permitting school officials to investigate and impose school discipline for alleged incidents of harassment or bullying that occurs outside of school grounds, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity if: 1) a parent, guardian, student, school employee, or volunteer reports the incident pursuant to the school’s harassment and bullying policy and 2) the alleged incident of harassment or bullying has an effect on school grounds that creates an objectively hostile school environment meeting one or more of the conditions set out in 280.28(2)(b).

The Governor’s Office, BOEE, DE, UEN, IDPH, Iowa Psychological Association, Iowa Alliance of Boys and Girls Club, Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies Association, and StudentsFirst are registered for this bill; Concerned Women for America of Iowa and ACLU-IA are registered against. School Administrators of Iowa registered as undecided with a comment explaining concerns.

SSB 3149 is the proposed Senate Committee on Education bill. This bill is thirteen pages long and proposes the following changes to the Iowa Code:

  • adding definitions of harassment and bullying to section 256.2 and 272.1 that are the same as the definition of those terms in 280.28.
  • 256.7(33) directing the state board adopt rules incorporating the training required by 272.2(19) into the standards for individual teacher and administrator professional development plans.
  • 256.9(65) directing the director of the department of education to file an annual report on harassment and bullying in Iowa schools to the Iowa Legislature as well as publishing the report on the department website.
  • 256.100 establishing an office of harassment and bullying prevention and response in the department of education to coordinate and implement the state’s efforts to prevent and respond to harassment and bullying. The office shall employ a harassment and bullying investigation specialist, provide assistance to schools, administer the school climate improvement grant program, analyze data, and coordinate with IDPH on the Your Life Iowa initiative. The bill includes a $500,000 appropriation for various purposes including funding not more that 3.0 full-time equivalent positions.
  • 256.101 establishing a school climate improvement grant program. Grant money may be used to fund school programs or activities including staff training, assessment of compliance with 280.28, conflict resolution or dispute management including restorative justice strategies, peer helpers or peer mediation programs, school-wide positive behavior support, school-based diversion programs, classroom management, and research-based violence prevention programs. The bill includes a $500,000 appropriation to fund the grant program.
  • 272.2(19) directing the BOEE to adopt rules requiring all individuals applying for or renewing a license, certificate, authorization, or statement of recognition by the BOEE who have direct and consistent contact with students to complete training approved by the office of harassment and bullying prevention and response. [Note the wording on who is required is slightly different that in HSB 525.] The BOEE is also directed to adopt training rules for individuals responsible for conducting investigations and for administrators. [Also different from HSB 525.]
  • 280.28(2)(a) amending “electronic” to include social networking sites and applications. [Note this is different that language in HSB 525 and does not make any change to 280.28(2)(c) “trait or characteristic of the student.”]
  • 280.28(3)(h) requiring a procedure for documenting actions taken by the school to investigate and respond to harassment or bullying.
  • 280.28(7) making changes to reporting requirements to the department and the local community to include data collected under 280.28(6), the process used for filing complaints, and antiharassment and antibullying training completed by school employees, volunteers, and students.
  • 280.28(9) establishing a more detailed parental notification procedure for incidents of harassment and bullying than the one included in HSB 525.
  • 280.28(10) permitting school officials to investigate and impose school discipline for alleged incidents of harassment or bullying that occurs outside of school grounds, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity if the alleged incident of harassment or bullying has an effect on school grounds that creates an objectively hostile school environment meeting one or more of the conditions set out in 280.28(2)(b). [Note the absence of language requiring certain persons to have reported the alleged incident before the school officials may take action as in HSB 525.]
  • 280.28(11) granting rule-making authority to the department of education.

UEN and StudentsFirst are registered for this bill. Interestingly, ACLU-IA is currently registered as undecided on this bill, though I can’t see that it is substantially different from HSB 525 with regard to First Amendment concerns.

Links that may be of interest:

From this blog: Harassment and bullying legislation raises First Amendment issues and concerns about overly-broad definitions of bullying.

Joanne Jacobs on school district surveillance of student out-of-school social media use and zero tolerance policies discouraging other students from intervening to stop bullying or assaults.

Out in Left Field on various ways schools may inadvertently encourage bullying and strategies to reduce bullying.

A Blog About School on overly-broad definitions of bullying and bullying prevention programs.

Legislative Update 2/3

Three more education bills were filed in the Iowa House today:

  • HF 2103 by Dolecheck (R-Ringgold) relating to supplementary weighting for shared operational functions of school districts and including effective date provisions.
  • HF 2104 by Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo) and twenty-five co-sponsors relating to the determination of preschool budget enrollment for the statewide preschool program. This bill would change the preschool budget enrollment from fifty to sixty percent of the actual enrollment of eligible students.
  • HF 2105 by Staed (D-Linn) and eight co-sponsors relating to academic indicators for students. This bill would essentially expand high-stakes, standardized testing by adding writing and social studies to the list of core academic indicators that are currently limited to mathematics, reading, and science. Note that if passed, it seems to me that this bill would alter the charge of the Assessment Task Force right about the time it may be wrapping up its work or render the work of the task force moot before the recommendations are even published.

And just because I thought to look it up today, here are the bills StudentsFirst has registered in favor of:

  • HSB 515 to expand broadband access.
  • HSB 525 “Bully Free Iowa Act of 2014.”
  • SF 2016 requiring schools to post annual reports of bullying and harassment online.
  • SSB 3019 the DE technical corrections bill.
  • SSB 3030 on standards and programs for students identified as limited English proficient.
  • SSB 3031 on professional development services for elementary teachers to improve students’ literacy skills.
  • SSB 3119 to expand broadband access.

Getting a Seat at the Table

Scott McLeod asked this weekend whether StudentsFirst deserves a seat at the policy table in Iowa. His blog post is a follow up on an interview he did with Mike Wiser for an article published in the Sioux City Journal about StudentsFirst’s move to take on a more active (more public?) role in shaping education policy in Iowa.

I find myself quibbling about the notion of “deserving” to participate, however, the post does raise interesting questions about how and why particular people find themselves with a seat at the table on education task forces–or committees at the district level–and whether it really matters anyway.

The Council on Educator Development was created by Division VI of HF215 [remember to click on the conference committee report version if you look up the legislation to get the language as it actually passed]. The council must have at least seventeen voting members who are to be appointed by the director of the Iowa Department of Education. Seventeen seats at the table were specifically reserved, so to speak, by the Legislature to represent particular groups or stakeholders as follows: eight educators who shall be subject to evaluation under whatever system is developed, and one each to represent the DE, the AEAs, ISEA, SAI, IASB, UEN, the largest approved practitioner preparation program in Iowa, an approved administrator program in Iowa, and parents of Iowa elementary or secondary students.

The Legislature did not specifically reserve a seat for StudentsFirst at the table, so in that sense, they certainly aren’t entitled to a seat at the table.

Presumably named organizations forward the name of their choice of representative to the director, otherwise, I surmise that it is a matter of knowing the right people to get selected for one of the other seats at the table.

It appears that Patty Link is plenty well-connected to ask for and get that seat at the table. Whether she actually represents Iowa parents (rather than Michelle Rhee/StudentsFirst) is a good question for public debate, although I am resistant to the implication from Tammy Wawro’s comment on McLeod’s post that parent representatives should (must?) be drawn from the ranks of PTO/PTA organizations.

McLeod lists a number of reasons we might not want StudentsFirst at the table, but I can’t help wonder whether it really matters.

I think the answer depends on whether the task force is going to engage in a relatively independent, thorough study and deliberation of the issues before arriving at recommendations or if it will only function as political theater of a sort, intended to provide the appearance of thorough study and deliberation while actually “building consensus” around recommendations that are largely decided upon before the task force or committee members were even identified and invited to the table.

After all, it clearly wouldn’t be hard for the director to identify people likely to be friendly toward DE desired recommendations and likely to be compliant with being managed toward that end. In which case, I can’t really get too excited about who is or isn’t chosen to serve as a rubber stamp.

However, if the task force will really be working towards an independent set of recommendations, I can see why some might not want Patty Link to have the opportunity to advocate for StudentsFirst’s agenda throughout the process.

If you are interested in following the work of any of the task forces created by SF 2284 (2012 legislation) or HF 215 (2013 legislation), the Iowa DE now has a task force page on the website with links for each of the task forces.

Have you ever sought appointment to a district or statewide committee, task force, or board? If you have served, what is your sense of how the committee, task force, or board functioned? If you are in charge of choosing members for district or statewide committees, task forces, or boards, how do you decide who to invite?

Director Buck’s Tenure Starts With a Bang

I just posted a few days ago that I expected Director Buck’s tenure to be more of the same, largely continuing in the same vein as Director Glass.  So, I’m a little surprised that he chose to get started with a controversial appointment, appointing StudentsFirst Iowa State Director Patty Link to the Council on Educator Development.

The Council on Educator Development was created in Division VI of HF 215, the major education reform bill from the 2013 legislative session.  From this blog’s coverage:

Division VI: Council on Educator Development.  Establishes a council on educator development to conduct a study and make recommendations regarding a statewide teacher evaluation system and performance review requirements and a statewide administrator evaluation system.  In developing recommendations for any evaluation system the council shall consider, in addition to other items, the fair and balanced use of student outcome measures comprised of multiple, reliable indicators of student growth and learning that are appropriate to the curriculum and the students being taught.  The measures may include gauges of higher order skills such as student research papers, science investigations, technology products, and art projects; teacher-defined objectives for individual student growth; student learning objectives; district, school, or teacher-created assessments; and high-quality standardized tests.  The council shall provide for wide distribution of a preliminary draft of recommendations to teachers, administrators, and school boards by October 1, 2015 and provide a mechanism and opportunity for the submission of feedback that shall be reviewed by the council prior to making final recommendations, which are due by November 15, 2016.

Patty Link is described as serving as the parent representative on the Council.  However, Patty Link is also registered as a lobbyist for StudentsFirst since June 13, 2013.  (What’s with the California address and phone number–doesn’t she live in the Des Moines area?)  So, it is completely unsurprising that objections are being raised about her appointment.

Why does it matter?  So far, efforts to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores have been successfully resisted in Iowa.  There have been good questions raised about the validity and appropriateness of using student test scores for that purpose.  But here’s the StudentsFirst view on the matter:

StudentsFirst has consistently called on states to require meaningful teacher and principal evaluations based on multiple measures that are focused on student outcomes.

HT: Scott McLeod.  He has more on this over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

Flying Under the StudentsFirst Radar?

I came across a link to a relatively new Iowa education blog today in my Twitterfeed: The Iowa School Bell.

Despite all the local interest in the upcoming school election, it seems our facilities planning and school closure drama have failed to garner any interest from Iowa StudentsFirst.

That may not be the case in other parts of the state.  The Iowa School Bell reports that Iowa StudentsFirst may have taken an interest in the Des Moines school election.