Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Education Reform in Iowa: Spinning Plates & Groundhog Day

Ever see the movie "Groundhog Day" starring Billy Murray? You know the one I am talking about, right? He wakes up, it's Groundhog Day. In fact, everyday is Groundhog Day. By changing his daily routine,  he hopes to finally awaken to a new day, but try as he might-success just seems to be out of reach.

That is kind of how I feel about education reform in Iowa. We can't seem to get anywhere useful, but if we keep changing our routine, we hope to find success. The fact is that there are no shortage of ideas about how to fix all that is wrong [with our schools] and provide the students of Iowa what Governor Branstad calls a "World Class Education". There are so many potential solutions that you can't see the forest for the trees! Some are pretty good, others not so much. 

As I see it there are some significant flaws in these efforts. The problem is that a:) there is simply too much political division, b:) we lack focus, and c:) we have involved people in the process who have no business being involved (i.e. tourism lobby). Let me explain.

While the legislature was pretty ineffective in passing education reform last session, they were very effective at kicking the can down the road. Instead of enacting useful reform efforts they asked for a plethora of Task Forces to be established. Why? Because these are very tricky things that about 50% of the electorate would love to see enacted while the other 50% would not. So, how many task forces are there?

By my count there are five, but somewhere I read that there were actually six. This is what I could find:
  1. Instructional Time Task Force
  2. Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation
  3. Early Childhood Assessment Task Force
  4. Competency Based Instruction Task Force
  5. Administrator Evaluation Task Force
  6. ???? (I am pretty sure this one is out there but can't for the life of me remember what it is)
Task force, task force, task force (tsk, tsk, tsk). Are you serious? Let's see if we can put one more spinning plate in the air. There is so much to focus on, we don't know where to focus. Our Director tells us that this is all critically important and that our kids deserve the very best. I agree. But  let's be honest. Our kids also deserve action. Most of these ideas are highly controversial, and they have almost zero chance of becoming anything more than a Utopian ideal. By the time they reach the floor of the legislature, they will be gutted. Oh sure you say, other states have done it. Maybe, but did they try to do everything at once? Did they try to cram controversial reform down the throats of the LEA, or did they build a coalition of support? Or, after they enacted those reforms, are they better off? Really?

Look, I don't mean to be a pessimist, but I have been to this rodeo. If we want this to work, and I mean really work, let's first stop with the spinning plates. How about a laser-like focus on one area that we think will really make an impact? A good place to start would be on something that we can all agree on so we can get the ball moving down the field. If we can build some momentum, then perhaps, just perhaps, we can begin to tackle some of these more controversial issues. Until then I guess we can just continue to do the same thing and hope when we wake up tomorrow morning it isn't still Groundhog Day.

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