Iowa Officals Unveil Ideas for Education Reform

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Iowa education leaders unveiled a framework for overhauling Iowa?s education system that calls for high school exit exams, doing away with an almost century-old teacher pay system and expanding charter schools.

Also included in the framework is the development of assessments that measure whether students have mastered their subject matter and the creation of an innovation fund that would provide districts with the money to try new things in the classroom. Additionally, Iowa would begin requiring ninth-graders take an international academic exam every three years and 11th-graders take the ACT.

Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, and Linda Fandel, Gov. Terry Branstad?s special assistant for education, offered the first glimpse into Branstad?s blueprint for reform, which will be unveiled Oct. 3. Officials, until now, have only said their efforts would focus on three key areas: setting clear and rigorous standards with fair measures for results, improving principal and teacher effectiveness and increasing innovation in the classroom.

Specifically, the current plans include:

* Doing away with the current teacher pay system that bases salaries on experience and college credits earned. Instead, the state would adopt a four-tiered system that would include apprentice, career, mentor and master teachers. Starting salaries for apprentice teachers would be around $40,000. Teachers would receive large bumps in pay each time they advanced to a different tier, with the maximum earnings around $80,000, Glass said.

* Eliminating districts? ?last in and first out? layoff procedures, based soley on laying off teachers with the least amount of seniority. Instead, district officials when considering lay offs would recognize teacher credentials and the needs of individual schools.

* Continuing to refine the Iowa Core, which outlines expectations for what students should know at each grade level. Officials will develop a test that better reflects whether students are meeting those expectations.

* Expanding the presence of charter schools, although officials are still exploring whether to allow private companies to run them. Operators would have to demonstrate a need for the school and its feasibility, Glass said. If they failed to meet state expectations, they would be closed.

* Requiring all 11th graders take the ACT college entrance exam. Also, students would have to take a high school exit exam, although it has yet to be determined whether they would have to pass it in order to graduate, Glass said. Schools would start giving the exam to 10th-grade students in hopes of catching those who are struggling early and providing them with extra help before they graduate, he said.

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