Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Take on the Education Summit

The Education Summit has come to a conclusion and now the hard work of "education reform" is set to begin in earnest.  In his closing remarks, Governor Branstad shared that he will take the ideas from this Summit, and begin the work of preparing recommendations to present to the 2012 General Assembly.  He seems to be interested in collaboration and plans to present (in draft form) his recommendations to the state and receive feedback before the final version is presented for legislative action in January.

I was most interested in the keynote address by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  In his address, he argues that Iowa schools are not getting any worse, but that they have rather maintained a status quo while other schools across the country have made significant improvements and reforms to their educational systems.  One need look no further than the fact that Iowa was last to adopt a statewide set of clear educational standards, and has yet to develop an assessment that properly aligns to those standards.  Secretary Duncan further outlined four key points that has led to the stagnation of Iowa education.
  1. Low standards
  2. Not showing leadership in innovation
  3. We have not been a leader in elevating teacher effectiveness
  4. A lack of leadership to provide quality early childhood education
The one area that I was interest in hearing about was the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which we have all come to know as NCLB), and there does not seem to be any hope of this law being taken up by Congress anytime soon.  It was somewhat encouraging to hear that Secretary Duncan "...refuses to go through another year with a law that is so fundamentally flawed."

One of the issues that will be interesting to watch unfold over the next year or so will be this idea of pay for performance, or merit pay.  The new director of the Iowa Department of Education has some experience in this concept, and stated during one of the round table sessions that the idea of compensating teachers based solely on the number of years in the field and the amount of education is an antiquated system that should be carefully evaluated. 

It has been argued that Iowa does have a robust system of evaluation now in place, with the advent of the Iowa Teaching Standards.  Under this model, teachers who are new to the system go through a comprehensive evaluation based on these standards for the first two years of their careers, and after that they are given a comprehensive evaluation on a three year rotation.  During the off years, teachers are working on individual career (or professional) development plans.  In instances where a teacher is not meeting the standards, they can be placed on an "assistance" track.

In any event, evaluation systems are not, and should not be about a system of 'gotcha', but rather should be rooted in the idea of improvement.  All of us, no matter what our profession, should receive constructive feedback on how we are performing on a regular basis.  If you are doing the right things in your work, wouldn't you like to know it?  If there are areas that you can improve, wouldn't you like to know what they are?

I would be eager to hear your thoughts on this.  Should our teacher evaluation system be at least partially tied to student performance in the classroom?  Is it a problem that we treat every teacher the same? 

There was also some discussion about teacher preparation programs and how we go about preparing our teachers.  Most "educating" of a teacher takes place after the certificate is granted.  I think back on my own experience and the courses I took to get me ready for the classroom.  Once I stepped foot in that classroom, there was so much that I didn't know!  Think about that for a moment! 

The former Governor of North Carolina had a pretty strong message for those of us at the Summit.  Governor Jim Hunt is credited with leading his state through significant education reform.  He outlined four things that we should think about:
  1. Make sure teachers are better prepared
  2. Have stringent hiring practices
  3. Provide strong mentorship programs
  4. Evaluation of teachers should focus on improved practice and include the following components
    • student achievement
    • qualified observations
    • student feedback
There was quite a bit of discussion about the quality of the assessment that we use to measure our student achievement, and it was brought up that in schools where there is high student achievement and test scores, there are no multiple choice tests.  We should focus on quality over quantity.  This is one area where I couldn't agree more! 

Well, I could probably go on for quite a bit longer, but fear that I may have lost some readers by this point anyway.  If there was a controversial speaker, (and I am not arguing that there was), then it would probably have to be Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  I felt that Governor Christie made some good points.  The most important thing he said was that we need to leave politics out of the argument.  It really doesn't matter what party you are aligned with, education reform needs to concern everyone.  While there will certainly be disagreements about how to proceed, I can imagine the most difficult hurdle to cross will be to see how the idea of merit pay, pay for performance (or whatever label you want to use) unfolds in this debate. 

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I didn't hear any new ideas.  We heard about how these ideas have been implemented in other states and hopefully will take some of these ideas and make them our own.  If we listen carefully, we can learn from the mistakes of others. 

In closing, it would be easy to find an excuse and lay the blame at the feet of someone else.  I don't want to do that, I instead want to be part of the solution.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the fact that no matter what we do, it is not going to happen without the financial support of the state.  To expect great education reform on a zero percent allowable growth model; well how can we even say that with a straight face?

1 comment:

  1. Superintendent Voss,

    Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts on Iowa(and Hudson)education. Your sharing of information and insights is appreciated. You raise a number of important issues regarding the path Iowa needs to follow in order to regain it's former ascendancy. It is encouraging to see Iowa pursuing a goal of "Rising to Greatness" again. As a former high school teacher in Massachusetts (for 25 years)I'm pleased that Iowa is facing up to its educational realities as we in Massachusetts had to in the 1990s.

    Brendan Dillon
    Hawkeye Adjunct Instructor