Branstad's team reveal education plans, but not price tag

Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass and Governor Terry Branstad's senior education adviser Linda Fandel rolled out a blueprint for reforming Iowa schools yesterday. The plan didn't include any big ideas not mentioned by Glass and Fandel a few weeks ago. It also didn't estimate how much state government and/or school districts would need to spend to make the blueprint a reality.

"One Unshakable Vision: World-Class Schools for Iowa" can be downloaded here (pdf). The main features haven't changed since Glass previewed the proposals in early September. O.Kay Henderson covered yesterday's press conference and posted the audio here.

Pages 3 through 5 of the blueprint highlight the "centerpiece" of the plan: proposals to produce "great teachers and principals." Multiple bullet points are below each of the following section headings:

Attracting and Supporting Talented Educators (through higher teacher pay, better training and stricter standards for entering the profession)

Improved Educator Recruiting and Hiring Practices (through a statewide "one-stop" teacher recruiting system and allowing reciprocity for teachers who are licensed in other states)

Creating Educator Leadership Roles (through the new "mentor" and "master" teacher designations Bleeding Heartland discussed here)

A Meaningful and Peer-Based Evaluation System (not to be based solely on test scores; the system would incorporate new "research-based and reliable evaluation documents" in line with current best practices)

A Transformational Teacher Salary Structure (eventually replacing the current "step and lane" pay based on years of experience with four new compensation levels: apprentice, career, master and mentor teachers)

Note: the teacher pay changes are likely to be among the most controversial Branstad administration proposals. For more details on how the system would work, read pages 5 and 6 of the blueprint (pdf). The idea is to have a new "statewide pay system with local flexibility." Starting teacher salaries would be higher, and current teachers could choose whether to stay in "step and lane" or switch to the new system. Master and mentor teachers would be paid significantly more, but those will be limited to 5 percent and 15 percent of the teaching staff, respectively.  

Job Protections Based on Effectiveness (making apprentice teachers "at-will" employees and creating "due process for dismissal" for teachers above the apprentice level)

Note: these reforms will also be highly controversial. The blueprint says school boars will "have the final say in dismissals" and layoffs will be "decided locally," but "individual performance, certifications, student needs and school needs" will be considered before seniority. Also, the new dismissal process will apply to all teachers, including those who choose to stay with the old salary structure.

The blueprint also calls for expanding a training program for managers who can handle budgeting, accounting and attendance, in order to "free up principals to get out into classrooms where they can lead and support great teaching."

The next large section of the education reform plan calls for setting higher standards for student performance. There are multiple bullet points under each of the following section headings:

Improve and Expand the Iowa Core (through higher standards and a rigorous "model curriculum")

A Next-Generation Assessment Framework (with a new kindergarten assessment, something new to replace the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in third through eighth grades, more end-of-course assessments in high school and a new requirement for all 11th graders to take a college entrance exam like the ACT or SAT)

A New Accountability System (seeking a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind, developing "a new system that embraces accountability and puts student achievement at its center" while also measuring metrics beyond strictly academic accomplishments)

Ensure Third-Grade Literacy (through research-based reading programs in all school districts and ending "social promotion" for third-graders who can't pass a statewide reading assessment; third-graders who are held back would have a chance to attend "summer reading camp")

The last major section of the blueprint deals with promoting innovation in Iowa schools. Ideas include a fund to provide grants for innovative programs, having the state Department of Education give local districts more waivers for experimental projects, creating more flexibility for charter schools as well as "online learning" options.

No one will disagree with setting goals like making Iowa a top-performing state with a 95 percent high school graduation rate and all students able to read or receiving intensive help by the end of third grade. However, the changes to teacher pay and dismissal procedures may run up against strong resistance in the Iowa Senate, if that chamber remains under Democratic control following the November special election in Senate district 18.

Meanwhile, Republicans in charge of the Iowa House may like the concepts on teacher pay and dismissals, as well as greater flexibility for charter schools, but I think they will resist strengthening the state's "core curriculum" and mandates such as a required college entrance exam for all 11th-graders. Iowa conservatives have long resisted centralized standards for local public school districts, private schools and home-schooling parents. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart has already declared the plan the "end of local control as we know it."

Glass and Fandel left two big questions unanswered yesterday: how much will all these ideas cost, and how does the Branstad administration propose to pay for them? Jennifer Hemmingsen posted a long list of ideas in the blueprint that will cost money at the Cedar Rapids Gazette yesterday. It's not clear whether Glass and Fandel don't know the price tag or made a tactical choice to hold back that information:

Dollar figure for the whole thing?  They don't have it, Glass told reporters. "We're still working on that number now," Glass said.

Salary for starting teachers?  Glass said there is a dollar figure that's attached to that, but he didn't give a number.  Glass said the starting teacher salary now is $28,000 in Iowa. [...]

Fandel said today's goal was to "lay out the vision" and get "buy in" before the price tag would be unveiled.  So are they not putting out the price tag today because they want to avoid "sticker shock" was the next question.

"Everybody knows this will not be cheap," she said, after repeating the "buy in" and "vision" goals.

In a statement released by the Iowa Senate Democrats, Senate Education Committee Chair Herman Quirmbach and Senate Education Budget Subcommittee Chair Brian Schoenjahn expressed support for innovations to improve learning, raise academic standards, and make teachers and school administrators more effective. They challenged the governor to show them the money:

Quirmbach added, "Education Director Jason Glass has repeatedly told legislators that goals like attracting more top graduates into teaching, freeing up time for master teachers to mentor and collaborate with colleagues, and aligning course design and teaching methods with new, higher curriculum goals all will require additional resources.  We eagerly await the other half of the governor's proposal, which will be his budget message in January."

"After the governor's unprecedented recommendation last year of zero allowable growth for K-12 for two years and his efforts to slash funding for preschool, Governor Branstad will have a lot to prove next year about just how serious he is about improving education.  The Governor's got the right goals -- but rhetoric without resources simply won't cut it," said Schoenjahn.

The full statement by Senate Democrats is here.

I was struck by how the blueprint says virtually nothing about preschool programs. Glass indicated this summer that Branstad was not planning to revisit arguments over whether Iowa preschool should be funded as a universal or merit-based program, and I understand why the focus is on K-12 education. Still, as preschool becomes more available to Iowa four-year-olds, I would expect early education to become a more important part of the literacy picture. The only reference to preschool that I found in the blueprint comes in the first bullet point under the section on ensuring third-grade literacy.

Todd Dorman was struck by the "breathtaking lack of detail" in the plan: "There are new goals, strong standards and fresh, tough requirements, but no real sense of the immense mechanics that must be fabricated to make them all work."

Any comments about education reform are welcome in this thread.

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