Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is This the Change We Have Been Waiting For?

If you read my blog, you probably already know that I feel schools need to change. I have written a number of posts about this very topic, so when I finally heard the leaders of our state sharing the same sentiments, I was excited about the possibilities.  Would we once again be considered a leader in public education?  Would we design a system that meets the needs of its students instead of the other way around? Would we provide students access to the best technology available to help foster their learning? Would we come up with a way to ensure that only the best teachers were working with the students of Iowa?  Would we develop a curriculum that is challenging and encourages students to question, inquire, and think? The questions kept coming to my head, but there was no real guidance being provided.  Then at our annual SAI conference, Jason Glass and Terry Brandstad outlined three factors they felt needed to be in place to transform Iowa schools:

1)  Establishing clear expectations and measures for all Iowa students.
2)  Developing great teachers and principals.
3)  Promoting innovation to improve learning of students.

After hearing these goals, I thought I could get on board, but there were still no details given. I really didn't know what this meant. I know that we need to be able to clearly identify what students need to know and are able to do, and that we need a way to effectively measure student learning. I also know that the Iowa Core and Common Core and the Iowa Assessments are not the answer.  I know we need the best teachers and principals working with the students of Iowa.  I also know that as long as we have our current system in place it would be difficult to provide the best to all students.  Finally, I know that we needed some fresh ideas to improve our schools, but I questioned how this would be paid for and how these ideas would be scaled up.

After leaving the  SAI conference in early August, I had more questions than answers. During the Iowa State Fair, Van Meter was fortunate enough to have senior, Dani Hubbard participate in the Governor's Education Summit Student Roundtable. I was able to listen to the questions being asked to the panel of students. Questions about expectations of students, quality of instruction, and high school exit exams. It was clear that the student panel thought more could be asked of them as students. They also felt that the relationships with teachers, the teachers passion for their subject and for teaching, and their ability to meet the needs of all learners were critical to the students' success. They also were not too excited about the idea of an exit exam.  The questions asked that day be Linda Fandel started to paint a picture of what the plan might look like. I even emailed my staff this:


Change is hard.  More change for all of us is around the corner. Director Glass will be announcing the plan for Iowa late Sept. or early Oct.  If you are paying attention at all, you have noticed there is a chance that:

  • All Juniors will be required to take the ACT
  • Teachers will be paid differently (probably more)
  • Students may have to take an exit exam to graduate
  • The school day/year will be extended
And there are many more ideas floating around.  The point is, schools are going to be forced to look at doing things differently. With the changes we have made the last couple of years, I feel we are well positioned, but I am sure sometimes we find ourselves reminiscing about the "good ol' days."  I am sure there have been a few things we have done as a District in which you have thought "Why are we doing this.?  School was okay for me. It'll be okay for these kids. Why change?"  My question to you is when was the "good ol' days?"

 I shared with you the website prior to the start of the year.  On that site, I recently read about Jamie Vollmer. He is an advocate for change in schools, but understands the dilema and the history of how what we are asked to do in schools today is significantly different than what they were designed for.  He has a lot of great information that you should take the time to read.  I have attached three documents, but there is more on these two sites:

The system is flawed. There never was a "good ol' days," so get used to doing things in new ways. The current system we have forces us to do more than what it was designed for.  We do so many great things. Teachers do a better job today with more challenges than ever before.  Don't let anyone tell you differently. However, we have to get better, so what are you doing today to improve?

Keep up the good fight.

Go Dawgs!
We have an excellent staff of wonderful people teaching at Van Meter. We do so many great things. This email was really me reminding our teachers that we can do better. Then on Tuesday, Sept. 7, John Carver, Van Meter Superintendent, asked me to go to a press conference. Linda Fandel and Jason Glass were going to share some of their ideas on what needs to change in Iowa. I thought this would be a great way for me to have a head start on what was down the pike for schools in Iowa. I wanted to hear it straight from the horses mouth instead of the filter of local media. I am including my notes (yes, I know they are difficult to follow, I was using my phone), but as I have reflected about what I heard, I don't know if I have a clearer picture or if the water has been muddied even more.

Though I am not against all students taking the ACT or having exit exams in theory, I am against having more hoops for students to jump through. From what I have seen so far, higher expectations sounds like more tests.  It also seemed as if Jason Glass is much more in favor of having students take the ACT than students taking exit exams to graduate. It appeared to me that Jason and Linda Fandel were not on the same page with this topic. It will be interesting to see how it plays out on October 3.

There was little discussion about how to help teachers improve their instruction, but there was a lot of discussion about how the old step and lane system needs to be replaced. I agree whole-heartedly with this. Though I don't know the ins and outs of the compensation system Dr. Glass described, it was apparent that there will be a push for a system that pays teacher for their effectiveness instead of how long they have been teaching.  This is a step in the right direction, but will not improve the overall quality of instruction students are receiving. I am anxious to hear what is proposed to help provide only the highest quality of instruction to all of our students.

The aspect of the plan I am most intrigued about is the funding for innovation.  We need to reward schools districts that are willing to take a chance to improve learning opportunities for students. Doing things the way we have always done them is not effective.  How will this work exactly? I know we don't need a repeat of the RTTT, but I know we need to support schools that are being successful. I am anxious to learn more about this part of the plan.

I know we need a flexible system that is focused on student learning. Time should not be a part of the equation.  Why should all students be expected to be at the same place at the same age, while in the classroom for the same amount of time for the same number of days? How does this ensure students are learning what is expected? I don't think extending the amount of time in classes will improve learning for all. It will help for some, but instead of focusing on the amount of time a student is in school, I hope to see a component focused on what the student knows and is able to do. I know there has been some discussion of competency based grading. I will be anxious to see what happens with this.

If we can design a system that clearly identifies what students need to know and do, students should be able to progress through their learning at their own rate. We have the technology, the human capital, and the capacity to design this type of system. Do we have the courage? I look forward to October 3 when the official plan for making Iowa the world's leading educational system is shared.  Will our leaders have the courage to truly create something different?

We are hosting a conference focused on teaching and learning with technology on September 21. We have a great menu of sessions for participants to choose to attend. However, we are most fortunate to have Jason Glass speaking to the entire group.  I look forward to his message and anticipate more information being shared about the future of education in Iowa. If you are interested in attending, be sure to register soon.


  1. I asked Dr. Glass how he would come up with more money to raise teacher pay. His answer was, "Surplus and inefficient use of funds." I was not aware of an education surplus??? His answer to what inefficient use of funds was, "Steps and lanes." (Twitter conversation)
    I am not drinking the Kool-Aid....yet.

  2. I think the idea would be if you have a teacher who has been teaching 15 years and they are mediocre, they are probably making $45,000-$50,000 while a 1st or 2nd year who is really good is making around $30,000. The two together make about $80,000. Instead of the mediocre teacher making $50,000 they might only make $40,000 in the proposed system and the really good younger teacher could then also make $40,000. So there really would be no need for new money in this case. The teacher would be paid what they earn instead of how long they have been teaching. This is my interpretation, not anything official.

    I have less concerns about the teacher/admin pay. I believe people should get paid what they are worth. We shouldn't get paid the based on how many years we have worked in a district. I have concerns about more tests. I need clarity on the purpose of the exit exam when we still haven't identified what it is we want students to know and be able to do.

    Thanks for the comments.