Dependable schools require dependable maintenance

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

Dad loved to tell the story of the guy so lazy that when he had a flat tire, he sold the car instead of changing the tire. That story was accompanied by a PS: “If you want a dependable car, you have to provide dependable maintenance.” 

It’s also true for public schools.

It’s a lesson for Governor Kim Reynolds.

After decades of neglect and a barrage of attacks, she’s shocked low-income kids scored approximately 15 points below average on standardized tests while students not proficient in English scored even lower.   

Reynolds said, “They deserve better and so we’re going to make sure teachers have the tools they need, that we’re focused on early literacy, English as a second language, and students with special needs,” adding, “Raising teacher salaries will likely be a priority as well.”

Students do deserve better, and so do their teachers. But Reynolds is late in her “Road to Damascus moment.” She’s made an art of insulting teachers while consistently underfunding public schools.  

She’s guilty of neglecting dependable maintenance.

Now, there’s a risk of breakdown.

Reynolds’ shock at low standardized tests scores is about as credible as the guy who sets fire to his house, lets it burn for a couple hours, and then is amazed when it burns down.

Let me note that she is using the easy but least useful indicator of school performance. There’s a giant inconsistency in only judging progress with standardized tests. 

At best, those tests are a snapshot of how students are doing on a given day. There are many conditions impacting results. Did the students get enough sleep the night before? Are they hungry? Is the room too hot or too cold? Is the student feeling well? Is the student angry about something? 

The best way to judge schools is by overall academic performance, and overall school climate. Teachers are told to diversify learning for individual learning styles, and then success is measured using standardized tests. 

In the words of Alanis Morisette, “Ironic, don’t you think?”

Reynolds has finally decided that raising teacher salaries is a priority. She’s right. Iowa teacher salaries lag nationally by 23 percent compared with other professions requiring the same level of education.

Since the Iowa legislature gutted public sector collective bargaining in 2017, the average raise bargained for educators has been an anemic 3 percent or less, and that percentage must cover a salary increase and cost of insurance. As a result, veteran teachers maxed out on the salary schedule either haven’t received much of a raise since 2017 or have lost salary.

How teacher salaries are increased matters. The best way would be to provide public school teachers with a specific, earmarked, salary bill that must be used for salary increases across the board. That’s how past Iowa legislatures raised community college salaries.

This salary supplement needs to provide a minimum of a 6 percent raise for every teacher and then allow bargaining locally. Simply, raising the minimum salary won’t solve the problem. Additionally, providing salary increases for only hard to find positions will create dissension and again won’t solve the problem. This supplement and others can be paid for with the $1.83 billion state surplus Reynolds is fond of bragging about.

But salary isn’t the only way to provide maintenance. Additional ideas include:

  • Allow professional autonomy so teachers can make classroom decisions.
  • Allow time to prepare during the workday.
  • Create a second supplement for schools to reduce class sizes and help pay for supplies needed to maintain a quality classroom environment. 

It’s time to maintain public schools so we can depend on them to deliver world class education.

Top photo was taken by Bruce Lear and is published with permission.

About the Author(s)

Bruce Lear

  • why would she invest in a system she loathes?

    if you look at the people she’s aligned herself with in the “conservative education revolution” they are pretty explicit that dismantling the current school system is the end goal.

  • Dirk in Iowa City

    The conservative side of the electorate look at the billions of tax dollars levied and spent to educate kids. They salivate to get their hands on that dough. They would (eventually) automate learning into mass education using a computerized models to teach 3Rs to all, maybe with home-based learning. The model leaves plenty for profit. Some of the steps: under resource schools vis-a-vis the expectations, cause parents to lose confidence in local schools, praise the quality of private schools, denigrate teachers, etc. etc. All in place in Iowa. The funds to private school parents is a transition step. Subjects beyond 3Rs would be pay-as-go private door-front schools. Sports would be pay-to-play“club models” only. The lawsuit against Sf 496 is a much needed start.

  • hi Gerald looks like we agree, maybe Bruce and company will see the light (well the darkness really)

    indeed they will try and extract whatever money/data they can out of the system while hollowing it out and yes eventually exchanging it for a system of private for-profit schools for those who can afford them, luckily for everyone else they are also dismantling worker protections for kids so win-win…