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A Report Card for Governor Branstads Education Blueprint: One Unshakeable Vision

Introduction: Maintaining the status quo in Iowa's education system is not acceptable. Most Iowans agree that change is needed if we want to provide the best for our children and improve the future standard of living in our state. We all agree that reforms should produce higher achievement and well equipped and professional educators. We also agree that reform cannot be put off for years or decades. While we agree reform is needed there are diverging opinions on how to reform our education system. Some in the education community believe that more money for teacher salaries, infrastructure, and technology will solve our education problems. Others believe the system has the money it needs and we that we must crack down on the system and whip it into shape. At the American Principles Project, we believe that reforms will never result in higher student achievement and economic prosperity if those reforms are not built on the foundation of parental rights and involvement as well as efciency and local control. Parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, not the State. If we are not willing to build a comprehensive education reform plan around that simple truth, then our efforts will fail just as they have every time before. Education reform efforts with huge outlays of cash and regulation have come and gone many times before. Yet here we are again. We postulate that the lack of lasting success in previous reform efforts in Iowa stems from taking the path of least resistance - centralization. Change always brings resistance, and education reform is no different. There are three things we believe will bring lasting success: First, parents must be empowered. Second, we need to nd efciencies and create options within the current system. Finally, we must demand results, not compliance with rote regulations, from local authorities and educators in exchange for State aid. The following is a brief summary of key points in Governor Branstads Education Blueprint. We applaud his willingness to tackle such a huge issue and there are a number of proposals in the Blueprint we should support. Well highlight those as well as outline areas of concern. We'll use four criterion as we grade the Blueprint and some of its key pieces: parental involvement/parental rights, respect for local control, the impact on non-public options, and the common sense smell test.

We hope this can serve as a guide for those who desire some context around the current education reform conversation and consider proposals through the lens of our basic American principles. The Centerpiece: Great Teachers and Principals Our grade: CRaise Starting Teacher Pay: Although everyone agrees that all education boils down to the teachers ability to connect with and educate kids, we have reservations about a one-size-ts-all pay scale. We are concerned that it will further burden the state budget. We believe it further erodes local control because it allows for no variance or exibility regardless of differences in cost of living between urban and rural settings. It also lacks evidence of efcacy. We cannot nd compelling evidence that teacher pay, in and of itself, increases a single childs test scores or overall academic achievement. Simply taking more money from taxpayers to pay teachers more without knowing that other reforms and increased choice will follow is an irresponsible diversion of public funds. Teacher Preparation Programs: The Blueprint maps out a system of teacher preparation that smacks of the same factory model of education that the document rightly disparages in its other sections. If we do not want a factory model of K-12 education, why perpetuate one for teacher preparation in post-secondary education? Phrases like personality tests for perspective teachers as a tool to weed-out potential teachers also concern us. We all know that there are some education majors who are obviously not equipped for teaching. It seems unwise to codify or regulate such a subjective measure. We should instead rely on the common sense and good judgment of post-secondary institutions to steer students into other elds if they determine those students are not a good t. We also believe that apprentice or probationary employment periods after obtaining a license and the student teaching experience can and will weed out most who are not t to be in the classroom. There has been much talk from Director Jason Glass about a value-added teacher evaluation program. We believe this has great potential as it combines objective with subjective evaluation data and provides a level of feedback that should help every teacher in the state continue to improve in the art of teaching. We look forward to more details on this particular proposal as it takes shape. An area we give an enthusiastic A+ is the call in the Blueprint for alternative teacher certication! We are thrilled to see Governor Branstad call for reciprocity, alternative pathways for mid- and post-career professionals to get into the classroom, and other non-traditional ways for experienced adults to give back to their community through investment in its children. When Jesus, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Clinton, Mother Theresa, and Thomas Jefferson would be considered unqualied to teach based on the lack of a particular college experience, we have crossed from due-diligence to folly. We believe this common-sense approach will bring much more value to Iowas parents and their

children. The plans willingness to x this inequity dramatically improves this sections overall score. A Relentless Focus On Learning: High Expectation and Fair Measures Our Grade: CThere are some extremely promising and equally disconcerting proposals in this section of the Blueprint. Our Preserve Innocence initiative has exhaustively covered the aws in the Iowa Core Curriculum and the federalization of education through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Race to the Top (RttT) grants. We are saddened to see that this new administration lists its rst priority under High Expectations and Fair Measures the desire to Improve and Expand the Iowa Core. The Iowa Core Curriculum is rife with and exposes our children to indoctrination and bias. When it begins to align fully with the CCSS it will impose mediocre (at best) math standards that teach key concepts and skills two years behind higher achieving countries! It includes a geometry methodology that was tried and discarded by the Soviet Union 25 years ago. In language arts it replaces literature with informational texts, which are far more susceptible to partisan thought and bias. When you combine that with our Innocence Report that highlights the undemocratic and unconstitutional process employed in developing the Iowa Core Curriculum, and our concerns in Health and Social Studies, we see it as a disaster in the making. The only way to improve the Iowa Core is to throw it in the trash. Additionally, Iowas decision to relinquish its sovereignty as a State and grovel at the throne of Arne Duncan in exchange for cash must be reversed. Director Glass has made it very clear that one of his top priorities is keeping federal funds owing to preserve the size of the Iowa Department of Education. We suggest that federal involvement in education policy is unconstitutional and a violation of basic American principles. We also believe Director Glass oath to uphold the Iowa Constitution demands he protect Iowas ability to direct Iowas education system...not acquiesce to the Bush and Obama Administrations attempts to manipulate and subjugate cashstrapped states. Its hard to be the director of a state department, a legislator, or a Governor and see the rest of the states do the wrong thing and then stand up for the right thing against tremendous pressure to get along and be in the club. We need that kind of leadership right now. Iowa must end talk of further cooperation with CCSS advocates. The Iowa Legislature must repeal the Iowa Core Curriculum, and in its place develop a simple, yet rigorous, set of state standards that allow for local control to meet the needs of students in different settings. Massachusetts and California could be a model of what not to do.

They had great standards before they were discarded for the mediocre ones in the CCSS under pressure from the federal government pushing this latest fad. There are many positive pieces in this section of the Blueprint as well. The push for more objective testing and accountability in concert with more subjective teacher and student evaluations is a good step. We are also encouraged by the following point in the Blueprint: Districts and schools that score high on this new system have earned autonomy, where the state only visits them to congratulate them, or perhaps to ask how we can take their ideas to other schools. We submit that most, if not every, private school in the state has already earned this level of respect and autonomy and should be rst in line. We applaud the fact that the Branstad Administration is willing to look at ending social promotion in the elementary years. We believe it would be even better if schools made an extraordinary attempt, in policy, to reach out to and educate parents of Kindergarteners through third graders at risk for being held back due to literacy challenges. Only when parents are part of the solution will the problem of illiteracy truly go away. Support at home, accountability by and for parents, and a school that recognizes that the parent is the customer are the keys to success when intervention is needed. A Spirit of Innovation Our Grade: D The need for innovation and respect for local programs that are willing to (with the support of local parents and citizens) take risks and innovate is paramount. Here is where we believe the Blueprint had the most promise. Unfortunately, it fell short of its potential and completely missed the mark. There are great proposals in this section. A willingness to engage parents and increase parental involvement is laudable. The Blueprint calls for a Statewide Parent and Community Engagement Network. An aspect that gives us pause is who is doing the engaging and how. As the Iowa Core stakeholder discussions illustrated, the educational establishment (i.e., the Department and school ofcials) often gives tacit recognition of the need to reach out and engage the community/parents. In reality, however, any time the institution needing reform initiates the networking of parents and other stakeholders it instinctively and naturally seeks out and nds parents and stakeholders that are least likely to offer constructive criticism or ideas that stray too far from the status quo. This is basic human nature. We believe that a variety of choice further empowers parents. Online education gives parents who are concerned with the traditional classroom structure and school day yet

another option. We are encouraged that the Department, through the leadership of the State Board of Education, is planning to increase access to online learning throughout the state. We believe, however, that the State must be open to both public AND private online education vendors. True parental involvement and diverse stakeholder involvement comes from a cultural change, not a political one. The role of Governor Branstad and Director Glass should be one of cheerleader. They should be encouraging interest groups, parents, and concerned citizens to (i) engage in their schools, (ii) organize parent-led organizations, and (iii) do what they can to increase their own choices, keep schools accountable, and assist schools when resources are short and needs are many. A natural, organic swell of community support for all educational vehicles can happen with charismatic leadership and with freedom and exibility granted by the state to do innovating things at the local level that stirs the creative energy of local talent. A topdown, one-size-ts-all, network of parents sought out by the education establishment is an admirable idea but it will not result in honest, sustainable relationships that challenge the status quo and change our states educational culture. That has never worked, and it never will. Sadly, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is school choice. It is not in the Blueprint. We hear the Governors education advisors talk a lot about surveying what high achieving systems around the world have in common and bringing those ingredients back to Iowa. This is good, but they are neglecting the proven success stories right in our own backyard. The problem is that these advisors seem to have blinders on when it comes to school choice. We understand that the education establishment is threatened by anything other than a complete monopoly on resources and access. It is a heavy political lift. We have, however, tried this current system for a number of generations and a number of reform cycles. It is not improving, and it is long past time for the educational establishment to accept and embrace choice. Parents have a right to direct their childs education. As long as we are going to take their money for the education of their children, we should allow them the freedom to choose the educational vehicle that best meets the needs of the child they know best. The Blueprint, in its current form, continues the escape-if-youre-rich model of education that tells parents you have one (or perhaps limited) choice based on your income and your zip code. That is immoral and ies in the face of our basic American principles. For too long our nation has entertained the public-school-only system that is rarely seen in countries with high performing schools. Sectarian, non-sectarian, homeschool and homeschool assistance programs, magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools, open enrollment, dual enrollment, and other options should be on the table for every Iowan regardless of the parents income or zip code. This is just and respects the natural right of parents.

We also believe that the states accreditation scheme for private schools, which is unique in the nation, is onerous and unnecessary. Schools outside of the public system need to be able to continue functioning as a non-accredited nonpublic school as many do now. They should also be able to choose between state accreditation or a third-party accreditation that best meets their needs and respects their mission and role in the community. We encourage Governor Branstad and Director Glass to work with Iowas faith-based and non-sectarian schools to pass the Independent Accreditation bill currently in the legislature. We realize this Blueprint is a starting point for years of conversation. We also know that Governor Branstad and Director Glass are indeed open to and supportive of School Choice. We are very hopeful that its inclusion in the plan soon will raise the overall grade of the Blueprint substantially. Whether it is universal school choice through vouchers, massive increases in tax credits for scholarships, education savings accounts like those recently passed in Arizona, or other creative ways to give parents options, it is time for Iowa to show parents it respects them and cares more about their children than any one educational institution. Financial Considerations Our Grade: Incomplete One of the biggest criticisms of the plan is the lack of a price-tag. We completely agree with Governor Branstad and Director Glass that some of the positive ideas in the Blueprint will cost extra dollars. Increased assessment, attening of administrative roles, value-added assessment tools, and other reforms will have a pricetag. We hope, however, that the Administration will look at ways to identify waste, nd efciencies, and identify other savings to pay for these reforms with no additional tax burden on Iowans. A comprehensive and open audit of Iowas education system could produce tens of millions for common-sense reforms. Without a price-tag and overall picture of how it impacts the state budget, the Blueprint scores an incomplete in this area. Timeline Our Grade: D+ We believe that genuine alternative teacher certication, reduced regulation freeing up administrators time, and increased school choice could reap huge rewards. Those changes can show other states in a few years time what common-sense parental empowerment can do for education. A 2012-2022 timeline is not ambitious. Last year in Indiana massive reforms and school choice programs were passed in one year because Governor Daniels made it clear that education reform and school choice were his top priorities. He accomplished this by engaging the elements of the public and private education community willing to do the heavy grassroots lifting.

We cannot wait until todays Kindergarteners are in college to see measurable change. This Blueprint is not a massive reorganization of the public system, lacks school choice, creates more bureaucracy at the state level, and further entrenches mediocre standards. Targeting 2022 to implement all of the modest changes in the Blueprint suggests that the Department is too tolerant of those who would impede meaningful reform. We need to be moving toward far bolder and more parent-centered reforms by 2022. Continuing to tinker with this plan that long is unreasonable and unacceptable and ultimately is a Blueprint for failure. Conclusion Our overall grade of the Blueprint: D+ Governor Branstad and Director Glass have a heart for education and clearly care about student achievement. They have made it obvious that education is a top priority for them. We applaud this! What concerns us is that this Blueprint tries too hard to thread the political needle right down the middle. A little for the left, a little for the right, and we will be able to come to consensus, right? A similar approach reaped little benet in the 90s because elements of the left (i.e., the teachers union) are never going to be happy with true reform and the vast majority of conservatives are not interested in tinkering around the edges of a systemic problem. We believe the way to win over the overwhelming majority of Iowans is to focus on parents and students. The way to do this is to: (i) empower parents to choose the educational vehicle that best meets their childs needs; (ii) ensure public school dollars are spent efciently and effectively; and (iii) remove the red tape preventing principals from doing the one thing they should be doing - training and empowering their teachers! Finally, we believe that Director Glass and Governor Branstad have a heart for innovation. If the Iowa Department of Education were lled with Jason Glasses, we know innovation would take off around the state. Too often, however, the Department is seen as a barrier to innovation. It errs on the side of dogmatic enforcement of administrative rule or the letter of the law instead of erring on the side of championing the cause of children and parents. The Department is seen too often as a hurdle instead of a springboard. A cultural change needs to happen within the Department that allows communities and schools to plead their cases and sees the Department go to bat for them through rule, waiver, and/or advocacy in the legislature. This Blueprint is a great conversation starter. It is obvious Iowans are coming to terms with the fact that we are no longer a top performer in education. Although many public schools are doing amazing things around the state, too many have been complacent. We have seen too little academic progress, too little adaptation to cultural change, and too little empowerment of local communities and parents to meet the unique needs of their children. There is much emphasis on accountability in the Blueprint. Accountability is good - but not to Federal bureaucrats. We believe modifying the

Blueprint to reject the overreach of the federal government into education and focusing solely on common-sense reforms that give parents and children true choice and ownership will create a system that is adaptive and nimble. These changes would allow the system to better respond to the demands and needs of its primary customers Iowas parents and students. Written by Eric Goranson and Shane Vander Hart, American Principles Project Iowa with contributions from William R. Gustoff, Iowa Educational Freedom Alliance and member if American Principles Projects Iowa Advisory Board.