Iowa’s Branstad Signs Broad Education Reform Bill into Law

Iowa has signed in new education reform bill so comprehensive that it has been deemed “a turning point in Iowa history” by Governor Terry Branstad. The bill’s focal point, which gained bipartisan support, is the creation of new leadership positions for teachers, but the bill lacks many of the initial ideas that the administration pitched for improved schools, reports Mary Stemeir of the Des Moines Register.

The bill failed to require high school students to pass end of the year tests or link student performance to teacher evaluations. Branstad supported both of these motions, but they failed to gain support.

Another change for the bill’s final draft included making the high-profile teacher leadership initiative voluntary at the suggestion of House Republicans. The program gives boosts in pay to top teachers who take on extra responsibilities in their school.

Still, Phil Wise, a policy liaison with the Iowa Department of Education, called the bill “bigger than anything that has occurred in at least 40 years” in the state.

“Yes, there are things in the governor’s bill that didn’t make it and that we regret didn’t make it,” Wise said. “But that does not detract from the significance of this legislation. Those were important, but secondary, issues.”

During a Monday news conference, Branstad stated that he knew work still needs to be done. New tests for students and evaluation procedures for teachers and administrators will be discussed by designated task forces.

It will cost approximately $7.27 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to implement the new education reform legislations and will cost $160 million annually in fiscal year 2018 for full implementation.

Branstad began his fight for education reform in July 2011 during a two-day summit on school improvement in Des Moines. There he stated that his decision to run for another term as governor was due in large part to Iowa’s math and reading scores. In the early-1990s  the state’s students performed at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, but now they rate in the middle.

Former Massachusetts Education Commissioner David Driscoll told attendees that his state’s ascent to the top on national math and reading tests was spurred by high-stakes testing for students and teachers.

Branstad released his first education proposal three months later. He included more stringent requirements for students applying to teacher preparation programs and recommendations that teachers should be judged partially on the performance of their students.

The 2012 bill failed to gain supporters from either party and failed again in 2013. Iowa will not be able to qualify for a waiver from the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act until Iowa evaluates teachers on their students performance.

The sweeping bill hopes that student achievement in schools will be boosted by the new teacher leadership program. The duties may include mentoring and developing curriculum for other teachers, and whether they are a part of the program or not, they will have more time to collaborate and learn from each other.

“The 2013 education reform bill promises to provide all Iowa schools with the support they need to significantly raise student achievement,” he said. “Teacher leadership is not a silver bullet, but it can drive other crucial reforms.”