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Inquiring Minds: Is Major Education Reform About Ready to Give Iowa a Try?

In this musical play my grandma told me about, called The Music Man, there’s a song that strongly suggests people from Iowa are stubborn, and (kinda tongue-in-cheek) tells listeners that “you really ought to give Iowa a try.” Back in January, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow noted how one-time Colorado education innovator Jason Glass had been hired to run Iowa’s state education department.

What’s the connection? The Des Moines Register reports today that Gov. Terry Branstad and his education man Glass have proposed “the most sweeping and comprehensive changes to Iowa’s education system in the state’s history.” Reported areas of major change include:

  1. Overhauling teacher pay systems (interesting note: Des Moines was one of the very first districts in the country to adopt the now-ineffective single-salary schedule… talk about stubborn!)
  2. Raising the bar on teacher preparation program requirements
  3. Ending “social promotion for third-graders who can’t read” — a la Florida
  4. Creating a rigorous accountability system for school performance — like Florida again, perhaps?
  5. Instituting end-of-course exams for core secondary subject areas to ensure students are competent when they graduate

These are certainly some good ideas. As the Register notes:

Jason Glass, Department of Education director, called the blueprint one of the most aggressive reform plans to be put forth by a state.

Is he right? I’ll take his word for it, at least for now. With so many bold education reform plans and bills going on throughout the nation, little old me would be getting too big for my boots to make any of my own grand pronouncements about one state vs. another. Locally, though, the Iowa governor’ grand reform plans face some significant political challenges. There are legitimate questions about additional costs and whether Iowa’s K-12 system can achieve greater productivity. But the forthcoming initiative also has elicited some open minds, as well.

Maybe those Iowans aren’t so stubborn after all. Maybe effective education reform really ought to give Iowa a try. We’ll just have to wait and see….