Survey: Iowa Public Backs Branstad’s Education Reform

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad claims there is strong support for his education reform package as he stands by his proposed to end social promotion for poorly performing third-graders — despite some educators and parents being vocal in their doubts over the idea, writes Lynn Campbell at the Omaha World-Herald.

“We think there’s some real benefit to focusing on reading at the early years,” Branstad said.

“Not having social promotion, I think, is an important part of making sure that people know that we’re serious about that.”

Branstad’s proposal to end third-grade social promotion (whereby students move to the next grade regardless of performance) is part of a sweeping education reform plan that will go before legislators in the new year.

“Third-grade retention is one of the hot-button issues in the blueprint,” said Chris Bern, president of the Iowa State Education Association, the union that represents 34,000 educators.

“Third-grade retention is talked about in every meeting that I’ve been to. … The people that I have spoken to, most of them do not like that issue.”

But a new survey that was released by Branstad this week shows that more than half — 51.3 percent — of those responding to the question said ending social promotion for third-graders who can’t read should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Although teacher pay is off the table for this legislative session, Branstad said he’s moving forward with other portions of the proposal, including a pass-fail third-grade reading test, writes Mike Wiser at the Quad-City Times.

Research has shown a correlation between retaining students in the same grade and higher dropout rates, according to several organizations including the national legislator group and the Westchester Institute for Human Services Research Inc.

But educators like Bern believe alternatives to help students read, such as summer school, should start as early as possible.

“We shouldn’t wait until third grade to start interventions,” Bern said.

“When you look at the whole budget we have for K-12 education, it’s a relatively small amount,” Branstad said.

“But we do have some families with financial needs that are not taking the ACT or not taking a college entrance exam, and we think this is something the state can pay for and will maybe help some families that otherwise might not have considered it.”