Education was the hot topic in the Webster City council chambers yesterday as Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad visited for a town hall meeting. Branstad visited as part of tour to 14 Iowa towns to discuss and solicit feedback on education reform policies in preparation for the 2013 legislative session. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has also been at many of the town hall meetings in the tour, was absent yesterday.
Branstad affirmed a commitment to giving Iowa students a world class education in an increasingly global economy. He said Iowa students won't be able to land the best jobs unless they are as well educated as their peers in the U.S. and across the world. The responsibility of that falls to the parents and grandparents of students, as well as businesses, community leaders and educators, according to Branstad.
"All Iowans are in this together, Branstad said. "And we need to all work together to make sure that our education system is truly world-class competitive."
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks in the city council chambers on Wednesday.
He said that progress in reforming the state's education system has made progress since the last legislative session, but there is still much work to be done. Branstad cited a report which found that Iowa has made the lowest rate of test score gains in the nation between 1992 and 2011. Iowa also ranks 29th in fourth grade reading and 25th in eighth grade math.
Furthermore, 33 percent of Iowa high school students going to community colleges needed remedial help in 2010 and 30 percent of Iowa high school students taking the American College Testing (ACT) test were ready for college in all four of the ACT benchmark areas. Branstad said this could be remedied by strengthening leadership in teachers and principals and better preparing future teachers, as well as better supporting teachers already in the classroom.
"Adopting policies that put teachers in leadership positions is a hallmark of high performing systems around the world. If Iowa puts in place the right policies, if we focus on strengthening leadership in both principals and teachers, we can give our children globally competitive education," Branstad said.
Preparing students that go into work straight out of high school also requires a new approach, according to Branstad. He said that jobs in industry now often require technical skill with computers and robotics and Iowa high schools need to adapt to face those modern challenges.
"This is not about narrowing the curriculum or improving standardized tests in math and reading, it must be about students acquiring more complex skills and knowledge in the subjects that are so important for their success in the job market so that they are equipped to be good citizens and to be able to gain wonderful jobs and careers that they want," Branstad said.
Part of that, according to Branstad, is attracting high achieving teachers. To do that, he said Iowa must open new career paths for those teachers, reduce the turnover of high achievers leaving the classroom after a few years and increase their base pay. Branstad said teachers must be rewarded for teaching at difficult schools, taking up difficult tasks and teaching difficult subjects.
The Gov. said that Iowa teachers deserve more respect. He said there is a tendency to blame teachers for the problems of society. Branstad cited an eighth grade teacher he had that inspired him by making history come alive and lead him to a career of public service as an example of how teachers work to better the children they work with.
Last Oct., Branstad and Reynolds laid out their reform blueprint with a teacher leadership and compensation structure with apprentice, career, mentor and master teachers. The state task force on teacher leadership and compensation has a report due with recommendations on Oct. 15. Branstad said he will address the issue in his "State of the State" address in the second meeting of the 2013 legislature and it will have monetary and bipartisan support.
"It's got to be sustainable. This is not a one time deal. This is something we're going to have to do over a long period of time, probably a decade or longer to really have the kind of success we want," Branstad said.