The 84th Iowa General Assembly hasn't been kind to the Governor Terry Branstad's comprehensive education reform package. Hardly any of the proposals submitted by Branstad survived their passage through the legislative body intact. Still, as the Governor addressed the Assembly on its final day before adjournment, he called the passage of the education reform bills — even in their highly diluted form — a step in the right direction.
Branstad considered it progress that even some version of the main initiatives in the reform package – online learning, new teacher assessment system and the possibility of keeping back third graders who are not at grade level for literacy – made it into law. And now he knows what to expect when he'll tackle the second part of his education reform plan when the Assembly reconvenes next year.
During the 2013 session, the focus will be on reforming the regulations dealing with teacher salaries. Branstad will also be taking another run at trying to get a Teacher Advancement Program-like model implemented in Iowa. The model, developed by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, divides all teachers into four tiers with each tier having a different set of responsibilities and its own payscale. Although a TAP implementation was initially part of the 2012 reform package, Branstad dropped the proposal before submitting it to the legislature.
The system would radically change the way teachers are paid and promoted in public school districts throughout the state because compensation typically is decided on the local level through labor contracts.
Although details on the 2013 set of reform bills are still murky, this hasn't stopped the Governor's critics from airing their objections. Senator Herman Quirmbach expressed concerns that Branstad will divert funding meant for reducing class sizes to career development opportunities for teachers. He said that when developing his reform ideas, the Governor should keep in mind the dictum familiar to doctors everywhere: first, do no harm.
Indeed, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, was one of the featured speakers at Friday's state-sponsored education forum at Drake University in Des Moines.
"Of all the things you can do, one that is the most expensive, but least effective, is lower class size," Tucker told the crowd of 700 teachers, administrators and education policy leaders gathered at the forum. "One of the best you can do is invest in larger class sizes and better teachers."
The audience was silent.