Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Education Reform 2013: The Sequel

I have read the Governor's proposed legislation very carefully, twice now (all 65 pages of it). I still don't quite understand. Perhaps someone out there can help me? I truly don't mean to be sarcastic or flip (well, mostly not), but I truly don't understand. You can find a copy at this link, so please read it and let me know what you think. If I have misread or misinterpreted something please let me know.

First some basics. The Governor is proposing an education reform package that when fully implemented will be a $187 Million allocation. For the next fiscal year he proposes a whopping $14 Million in new appropriations for K-12 education. The bill is broken down into five divisions, so let's take a few moments to examine these divisions, shall we?

Division 1-Online Learning Initiative-Fees and Appropriations

This portion of the bill expands opportunities for students to participate in online courses. In this case they are managed by the Department of Education. Unlike the online schools that we battled last year, this holds some promise and could be beneficial to rural school districts who are unable to provide upper level or some specialty courses. There does not appear to be an open enrollment [provision] of students to another school district (this is where part of the opposition occurred last year). It provides resident pupils (and districts) the ability to serve students in their home school using a blended format when other models may not be available or cost effective. The Department of Education will administer the courses and bill local school districts at a rate that is undetermined.

Here is where it gets a little weird for me. The Governor proposes allocating money for this to the Department of Education in the following amounts, and proposes adding 3 new positions to the Department (see page 1, subsection 9, lines 20-33).
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$1,500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$1,500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2015-$1,500,000
Interesting, right?

Division 2-Training and Employment of Teachers

Okay, so the first idea here is to do a better job of recruiting young people to consider teaching as a career. There is a call for marketing and a public outreach initiative by January of 2014. Line 3 (page 2) of this section tells us that it is subject to an appropriation of sufficient funds by the general assembly. On page 6, line 8 we learn that there is an appropriation of $1,000,000 to the Department of education to develop this program. Oh, and hire 3 people. 

Then we get into this online state education job posting system that the Department of Education is going to administer and require all school districts to post job openings on. This idea was floated last year and was a dumb idea then too. We already have online job posting sites. Most school districts in the state subscribe to Iowa Reap (which has a nationwide reach), so this seems like a duplication of service. No wait, I take that back. It doesn't seem like a duplication of services, it is a duplication of services. Furthermore, I can attest to the fact that superintendents aren't sitting around thinking "Gee, if only there were an online state posting system where we could post our jobs with DE oversight! Not only will it require me to do the same thing twice, but it won't serve any useful purpose! Where can I sign up now?"

The section also includes what is referred to as a "Teach Iowa Scholar Program" whereas students entering the teaching profession that meet certain criteria can receive a $4,000 grant. The grant is pursuant to these students becoming teachers and agreeing to work in an Iowa school. It looks like they can receive a maximum amount of $20,000 over five years. Subsection 6 (page 4 lines 17-22) indicates that money will be appropriated to the Department of Education, but it doesn't say how much. This looks an awful lot like an unfunded mandate to me, but doesn't appear to be a local school district obligation?

A proposal is also included to pilot a year long student teaching experience. This is actually an interesting proposal I would like to hear more about! However, I imagine this would significantly alter teacher preparation programs in our colleges and universities, and I am not sure it would all be for the better. On this one, I better defer further comment to my colleagues who administer these programs. And in case you are wondering, on page 6 lines 15 and 16 we learn there is an appropriation of $2,000,000 to the Department of Education. Oh yeah, and hire 2 people. 

Division 3-Iowa Promise Diploma Seal Program

The first thing that jumps out at me in this section can be found on page 7, lines 27-32.  In this section, it states that the district wide assessments that are used must be the same ones that were used statewide on July 1, 2011, and that the successor assessment must be by the same assessment provider. So let me get this straight, and someone please help me here in case I have it wrong. Does this effectively mean that any test that is adopted needs to be administered by Iowa Testing Programs? So...uh, if I read that right I kind of have a problem.

The next several pages describe the diploma seal program, which is described in the subheading of this column. This, I actually do kind of like and think it could be a good thing for our students. Basically what we are talking about here is putting a seal on high school diplomas of students who have demonstrated they are career or college ready. But again on page 13 (line 35) and page 14 (line 1) we learn that there is another appropriation to the Department of Education to develop the program at a cost of $4,000,000. Oh yeah, and hire 3 people.

Division 4-Teacher and Administrator Development System

This section of the bill outlines and describes proposed changes to the evaluation systems that are currently in place in school districts across Iowa. For more information about the current system of evaluation I would encourage you to take a look at my blog from last week. An important note about this section. Iowa applied for and was denied a waiver from NCLB sanctions last year due largely to issues with our evaluation system. A component that includes student achievement data as part of the evaluation process will likely be necessary if Iowa hopes to get relief from NCLB sanctions. Oh yes, page 21 lines 8 and 9 describe the appropriations, again to the Department of Education:
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$3,500,000
And they can hire 3 people.

Division 5-Iowa Teacher Career and Compensation Matters

There has been a lot of discussion about the work of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force that recently made recommendations to implement a career pathways ladder of compensation for teachers. This section outlines (in broad strokes) the way this would work. The first several pages discuss a funding mechanism that designates money (as a categorical funding stream) for an appropriation titled "teacher leadership supplemental district cost". As a categorical funding stream, the legislation indicates that the money may only be used for the purposes of implementing this model. Several pages are devoted to explaining the calculation methodology that is proposed. A three year ramp up of funding is proposed with allocations as follows (see page 33, lines 16-26):
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$5,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$50,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2015-$50,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2016-$50,000,000
  • FT beginning July 1, 2017-$1,500,000
The majority of this money is proposed as state aide to school districts, although it does provide the Department of Education to, yep you guessed it right, hire more people! (page 34, lines 17-20)

Interestingly, on page 37 lines 12 and 13 the legislation boldly proclaims the new minimum salary for beginning teachers to be $35,000. This is great and I support this, but there is no appropriation included.  The allocation previously mentioned above is for the implementation of the career ladders, so-how are we going to make that work. (We are going to talk allowable growth next week.) A sidebar here: there has been no discussion of the ripple effect a boost of $35,000 (on the base pay) will have to the salary schedule.

Now the new, or initial teacher is only going to be responsible for 75% student instruction because the other 25% of the time will be spent for observation and leaning. They will also have a contract that is 5 days longer than career teachers. (page 37, lines 24-30)

The district is also required to designate at least 10% of its teachers as model teachers (page 38, line 21), after meeting the prescribed requirements outlined in the bill that include a "rigorous review process". These folks will receive a minimum of a $2,000 stipend and an additional 5 days on their contract. (page 38, lines 26-31)

Mentor teachers are described in this section as those who, again are subject to review and other criteria (and an identified 10% of the teaching force). These teachers will also have a 75% teaching load, with 25% of their time devoted to mentoring other teachers (page 39, lines 7-10). In this model, the teacher contract is extended by 10 days with a salary stipend of at least $5,000. (page 39, line 20)

Finally we talk about the lead teacher. Again, after being recommended and meeting the prescribed requirements, they have a teaching load of 50%. The other 50% of the time is spent in a variety of teacher leadership assignments, too numerous to mention here. Each school district must designate 5% of teachers as leads, and have their contract extended to 15 days. The lead teacher is eligible for a stipend of up to $10,000. (page 39, lines 34-35; page 40 lines 14-16)

Teachers not described above are referred to as career teachers and thus have no additional stipends. Each role described above is considered a one year assignment and the legislation provides for checks and balances for ensuring high caliber teachers are assigned these roles. My only other question at this point is: What do we do with the students when these teachers are doing other things? Larger class sizes?

In Summary

I have focused mainly on appropriations for the fiscal year set to begin on July 1, 2013. In cases where it helped to clarify a point or provide additional relevant 'color' to the discussion, appropriations for future years were included. If you kept a tally of appropriations on a sticky note as you read this, you hopefully came up with the same figure that I did: $14 Million. 

What I find peculiar about these appropriations is that $9 Million of this appropriation is tied directly to the Department of Education for the development of programs and process that will be implemented in future years. The remaining $5,000,000 is allocated for pilot studies for districts to implement the career ladders, although it appears that approximately 20% of this allocation can be maintained by the Department for administration. 

In addition, if you have been tallying along with me, you hopefully found it interesting that with each of the allocations to the Department, it included the addition of personnel. By my calculations, if passed the bill would permit the Department to hire a bunch of new staff. Enough in fact to staff a medium sized elementary school!

This is what I see when I read the legislation, and perhaps I am missing something. If that is the case, I implore you to let me know. Hopefully that is the case! Think about it for a second. We are living in an era where there is a steady drumbeat of calls to shrink the size of our government. In the same breath, we yearn for local control-because as the saying goes 'all politics are local'. But here we go with a proposal that expands a government agency, and in some cases increases government oversight. Is that what we want?

Now for my final thought, because I know this is long and appreciate the fact that you have stuck with me this long. Right now we have no allowable growth. Certainly you have been reading the newspapers and watching the news. School districts are going to start making preparations to lay staff off because we don't know what our budget situation is right now. So if this bill becomes law and our funding issue isn't resolved, we will be letting people go.

Maybe that is okay. From the looks of it the Department of Education is going to be hiring.


  1. I did hear that the bill is to allow Iowa Testing Programs to administer the SMARTER Balanced Assessments to give the state some way to have those new tests and to address the legislation that passed last year which required ITP to be THE test for summative assessments.

  2. Part I -

    Hi Anthony,

    The ability to conjure up a narrative, type it up, mash a button and publish it to the world is - on the balance – a positive thing.

    In this case, however, almost every point you make is incorrect.

    I’m not sure if it’s carelessness, confusion, or intentional – but there are some things we need to clear up.

    Let’s set the record straight and get into the details of the points you raise.

    ILO – there is an appropriation request of $1.5 million a year for three years and then the program transitions to a fee for service model. The DE has operated this program historically using federal e-rate dollars but that limits the number of students we can serve and ILO has a long waiting list. This appropriation isn’t for DE bureaucrats (as you seem to suggest throughout this rant) – it’s to hire Iowa teachers to deliver online course content and expand course offerings.

    Interesting, indeed.

    Teach Iowa – several districts do have online job posting services. The problem is that to apply for a job in Iowa you have to repetitiously fill out the same information over and over again and there is no central place where potential applicants can access all the teaching jobs in the state. This just hobbles our ability to recruit as a state. You seem to be making the argument that instead of having a free option to districts that allows for a high degree of leverage in connecting openings with teaching talent we should have 348 different flavors and a fractured approach.

    You are also badly confused on the Teach Iowa Scholar Grants. The appropriation for Teach Iowa, through the Department, pays for the Teach Iowa Scholar Grants. There is no burden on local districts – it’s a state funded system. Again, this isn’t money to grow the Department – it’s money that goes directly to high performing educators in our state.

    Perhaps you think it’s better that we remain disconnected and fragmented in how we recruit and attract top talent because the current model is working so well for us?

    Iowa Promise Diploma Seals – the appropriation here goes to having the state cover (not districts) the costs of paying for college entrance and career-readiness exams as an option for students. The larger appropriation in later years would cover the creation of an assessment on the Iowa Core Universal Constructs (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, etc) – something that most educators have been clamoring in favor of for years. It would also cover the costs of the state moving to an interstate, common-core aligned assessment like Smarter Balanced.

    But perhaps you prefer we stick with the Iowa Tests forever?

  3. Part II

    Teacher and Administrator Development System – this appropriation goes to cover the development of a statewide framework for evaluation and the creation of a peer-based administrator support system that would provide mentoring for every principal in the state. Again, supports for schools. It does not seem unreasonable to have three individuals at the state level to design and develop that system.

    But perhaps you think we need 348 different versions of evaluation systems (a different flavor for each district) and no supports in developing principals in the state?

    Teacher Career Ladder and Compensation – at last you get a point right in that the vast majority of these funds pass directly through to school districts with a great deal of flexibility for how it is to be used. There are some state guardrails for use and there is money appropriated to the Department to support districts (particularly small, rural districts) in putting a system like this in place.

    But perhaps you think if we just push the money through, these systems will miraculously develop in schools with no supports or connections to places who have done this work before and connections between school leaders who are implementing?

    You also question the coverage issues created with the release time for teachers. The resources provided to districts account for coverage issues so that new staff can be hired to cover the release time.

    Maybe you should have done the calculations or talked to someone who understands the bill and the funding mechanisms before opining on this matter?

    From a historical perspective, the Department was funded with about $9.5 million in state funds about 4 years ago. This is far less than any district in the state of Iowa. Today, the DE’s state funds stand at about $5.7 million. That’s nearly a 40% reduction. No school district in the state has endured such a hit to its budget.

    The Governor’s education reform bill does contain some new appropriations to the Department to administer the statewide initiatives contained in the legislation. However, the total amount for the DE amounts to less than 1% of the total budget request in this package.

    Perhaps you think even that amount is unreasonable?

    In sum, your “calculations” are wrong. The ability to publish this sort of half-baked analysis isn’t questioned. But the prudence and accuracy of it should certainly be put into question as well.

    You are an Iowa superintendent and that carries with it a greater level of responsibility and accountability. You should have done your homework.

    Jason Glass

    1. Director Glass:

      Thank you for responding to my post, I truly do appreciate your comments and clarifications. I invited comments and clarifications in my opening paragraph. However, I still believe the approach in some of this legislation is off base. From where I am sitting, this legislation offers scant funding relief for local school districts. There is no mention of allowable growth, and the Governor has been firm that he doesn't want to talk allowable growth until this matter is settled. You state above that the resources provided account for coverage issues so new staff can be hired to cover the release time. Great! I support that, and can say it makes me feel much better! But, you yourself have made comments in the past that we may need to increase class sizes (if I am misinterpreting previous statements, feel free to correct me).

      Believe me, I can appreciate the fact that the DE has had a funding cut from a historical perspective. So have the LEAs, but as you point out it hasn't been as drastic. However, in my first year as superintendent, I had to cut over $572,000 from our budget. In a school district this size, that is a lot of money. I had to look this community, these parents, students and teachers in the eye and lay off teachers, cut programs, and increase class sizes. We have some sections now that are upwards of 30 students. That is pretty hard to do! Have you ever had to do that, Director Glass? Have you ever been a superintendent? You are right, it does come with a lot of responsibility and accountability.

      You point out that the total amount for the DE accounts for less than 1% of the total budget request, and then ask if I think that is unreasonable. When school districts are facing 0% allowable growth, then yes, I do think that is unreasonable.

    2. Thanks for the reply Anthony.

      You launch into a political discussion related to allowable growth - the Governor has been clear to point out that he is open to a discussion on increased allowable growth (or the State Aid Adjustment as they are calling it in the new tax structure) but only after something happens on education reform.

      It is a mischaracterization to say that's a blanket "no" at 0% - though I understand for rhetorical reasons you feel the need to create such a narrative.

      Further, back to the ed reform bill that was the impetus of your post, this bill provides schools over $160 million annually in new funding - that is far from $0 in my estimation.