Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Iowa GOP Announces Bold Public Education Reform Measures

“Iowa School House Initiatives” focus on accountability and standards

Des Moines, IA – Leading Iowa Republicans today announced a series of public education reform initiatives designed to inject greater accountability, standards and transparency into Iowa’s public education system.

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn joined State Senator Kim Reynolds (R-Osceola) and State Representatives Mike May (R-Spirit Lake) and Jodi Tymeson (R-Winterset) to announce the Iowa School House Initiatives, the second issue series in its “Iowa Republicans: Real Solutions for Iowa’s Families” policy agenda.

“As a proud product of Iowa’s public schools, it is very troubling to watch our once great educational system slip into mediocrity,” said Strawn, noting that recent reports indicate that one in two Iowa high school graduates must take some form of remedial class work when they get to college.

“A quality education is the golden ticket of opportunity for any student in any classroom in this state and I am proud that Republicans are leading with common-sense solutions to benefit this state’s greatest resource – our children.

“Today we are pleased to offer our Iowa School House Initiatives, a set of three common sense solutions to set high academic standards, test students and teachers to ensure those standards are being met, and keep parents and taxpayers fully informed of our progress,” said Strawn.

The Iowa School House Initiatives are: 1) Set academic standards that align achievement with the demands of a global economy—top down “core curriculum” programs focus on inputs, whereas Iowa Republicans are interested in setting outcome standards and empowering local teachers, parents, and school boards with the flexibility to design the necessary programs; 2) Exit exams for graduating students and entrance exams for new teachers—high standards have no value without objective testing to ensure students have met the minimum qualifications and parents have a right to expect new teachers to be proficient in the subjects they teach; and 3) Parent and Taxpayer Right to Know Act—transparency and accountability are keys to successful reform and Republicans will provide parents and taxpayers with the tools to evaluate the performance of their school system.

Representative May said, “As a long-time public school teacher, I know first-hand that low expectations lead to substandard results while high expectations result in high achievement. Our students are capable of being the best in the world and we must establish standards that will prepare them to compete in the global economy.”

Senator Reynolds said, “With roughly 60% of our state budget dedicated to education spending, resources are not the issue. Instead, we must focus the expenditure of those resources on implementing high standards, testing our capacity to meet those standards, and providing parents and taxpayers with transparency and accountability tools. In this way we be will do more than simply talk about a world class education, we will be providing it.”

In the coming months the Republican Party of Iowa, in conjunction with Iowa House and Senate Republicans, will travel the state and offer additional solution sets on such issues as health care, family, energy and the environment, and transparency and ethics.

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Iowa Republicans: Real Solutions for Iowa’s Families
Republicans take the lead on offering bold solutions to Iowa’s problems

Iowa School House Initiatives

With nearly 60% of Iowa’s state budget devoted to some form of education spending, Iowans have every right to expect an educational product that prepares our students for college and/or a career. Unfortunately, even though Iowa students averaged the second highest ACT scores in the nation, a whopping 71%1 of students who took the ACT in 2008/09 were not prepared for college and 50%2 of our graduates must take some form of remedial class work when they get to college.

Most Iowans are justifiably proud of their local public schools. However, we cannot let that pride blind us from the reality that the standards, expectations, and accountability measures that were good enough a decade ago, might no longer be good enough today.

In addition, we must never allow the level of spending on education to be the sole yard stick that measures our success. Our students, teachers, and parents deserve an educational system that aligns our educational products with the needs and demands of a changing world.

Republicans have real solutions to help ensure students and teachers achieve at higher levels while providing parents and taxpayers with greater transparency and accountability for their success. Here is what Republicans will do if Iowa voters give them the opportunity:

Set Core Academic Standards and Empower Local Teaching Professionals
Governor Culver and legislative Democrats have approached academic standards by prescribing a one-size-fits-all, top-down, experiment on our students and teachers. Attempts to create a statewide core curriculum have focused on educational inputs that limit the flexibility of local teachers, parents, and school boards.

Instead, Iowa Republicans propose a series of academic achievement standards that align academic standards in reading, mathematics, history, and science with the demands of the global economy, careers, and further education, so that earning a high school diploma means a high probability of success. Our students are no longer competing with students in the Midwest, but with students in India, Russia, and China. In order to compete internationally, we must have world-class standards. In addition, Iowa Republicans propose to empower Iowa teachers, parents, and local school boards with the authority to determine the content of a local core curriculum and design local programs that help students meet the new state standards.

Exit Exams for Graduating Students and Entrance Exams for New Teachers
Setting high academic standards for our students and teachers is the first step in our educational reform agenda. Step two involves the development and implementation of appropriate testing tools to ensure students have met those standards and teachers are proficient in the subject matters in which they teach.

To be considered proficient in Iowa a student can be ranked as low as the 40th percentile on the ITBS and ITED tests. In 2007-08, 23% of Iowa’s 11th graders did not meet even this watered-down reading proficiency definition, nor did 22% in math3. Yet, in Iowa we graduate over 90% of all Iowa high school students. Republicans view this as a failure of the system and a result of setting low expectations for our students. This doesn’t make any sense and devalues the diplomas awarded to students who actually meet basic academic achievement standards.

Iowa Republicans will work to adopt legislation that requires the development and implementation of rigorous exit examinations in all basic academic subjects for graduating seniors to ensure those receiving diplomas possess the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully compete in the world.

In addition, it is not enough to subject our graduating seniors to such proficiency exams if their teachers have not been asked to go through a similar process. Iowa is one of only a handful of states that does NOT require new incoming teachers to pass basic proficiency exams in the core subject matter they intend to teach4.

The results of a pilot teacher testing program in Iowa showed that 34% of students seeking a teaching license were able to pass either the entrance math or biology test. At the very least, Iowa Republicans will bring forth legislation that requires incoming teachers to pass the same exit exam in their subject matter required of graduating seniors before they can be licensed to teach that subject matter in an Iowa classroom.

Parent and Taxpayer Right to Know Act
The final key to the educational reform process is accountability. Parents and local taxpayers must be provided with the tools to evaluate the performance of their school system and hold local educational authorities accountable.

Republicans have previously passed legislation requiring local school districts to post an annual “Report Card” such that parents and taxpayers are fully informed on the effectiveness of their school system on a wide variety of performance measures.

Unfortunately, Governor Culver and legislative Democrats have quietly passed legislation to gut Iowa’s Report Card system and eliminate the public disclosure of key performance standards such as the percentage of district high school graduates who were not proficient in reading, math, and science. In addition, they struck a requirement that school districts provide written notification to parents when their child is reading below grade level.

This back tracking on the commitment to parents and taxpayers by Iowa Democrats is unacceptable. Republicans promise to not only restore the past performance measures, but to require the development and publication of comprehensive performance measures on an annual basis—including the true cost of educational delivery in each Iowa school district and comparative rankings with similar Iowa school districts.

Iowa Republicans will provide parents and local taxpayers with the necessary tools to hold their school systems accountable for the delivery of an education that meets the academic standards necessary to provide our students with a truly world class education. These tools are provided not as a tool for punishing under-performing school districts, but to provide early identification of problems to encourage a cooperative community effort to solve potential problems and bring their schools to an acceptable level of achievement.

1 American College Testing, August 2009
2 ChetCulver.com
3 Iowa Department of Education
4 National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2000b

Iowa Republicans: Real Solutions for Iowa’s Families is a joint project of the Republican Party of Iowa and the Republican Iowa House and Senate Caucuses. Through this project Iowa Republicans will promote a series of bold solutions to the problems facing our state in areas ranging from the budget to education, the environment and energy, family, health care and transparency.
Paid for by the Republican Party of Iowa. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 621 E. 9th St., Des Moines, IA 50309 515.282.8105 www.iowagop.org