Selling Branstad’s Education Blueprint

Marion Herbert's picture
Monday, October 24, 2011

Iowa’s governor has just provided a prime example of an education policy other states might pursue in looking beyond No Child Left Behind’s notorious failures and cover-ups.

On Oct. 3, Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, announced his initial reform “blueprint” for a state that in 1992 led the nation in academic achievement but has since slipped to the middle of the pack.

Branstad’s administration has caught what a wave of new studies demonstrates: The nation’s top school systems rate at best mediocre internationally, though U.S. workers increasingly must compete globally.

Branstad has called for “systemic” reform. The first reform item entails attracting and retaining the best teachers and principals. Central to this is a tiered teaching system in which new teachers and principals must meet higher bars to enter the field but will receive greater starting pay and intensive mentoring. Current teaching pay schedules reward “butt in seat” time rather than excellent track records. A shift to performance-related pay is proposed. It also shifts inflexible teaching contracts to “at-will” agreements typical in the private sector.

The second reform element would raise Iowa’s education standards and revise state assessments to fit them. It requires exit tests for core high school subjects such as U.S. history and algebra, and it ends social promotion for third-graders. Branstad’s plan also uses student test scores to measure how specific teachers affect each child’s education.

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