Branstad Looking to Repeat Massachusetts’ Mistake

Massachusetts took a model of educational reform and success and chucked it to adopt the common core state standards.  No legislative vote.  Jim Stergios of The Pioneer Institute and Lindsey Burke at The Heritage Foundation write a cautionary tale in an op/ed at The Daily Caller.

Until last summer, education experts from across the political spectrum regarded Massachusetts as having the nation’s best academic standards and testing for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. But now that the state has adopted national standards and testing, it has become a cautionary tale about the dangers of ceding local control over public education…

…In 1993, Massachusetts enacted landmark education reform legislation. The new law included high academic standards, high-stakes testing for students and teachers, charter public schools and accountability for everyone in the system.

These standards and reforms made Massachusetts the nation’s leader in public education. In 2005, Bay State students became the first students to finish first in all four categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

These tests, known as “the nation’s report card,” were administered again in 2007 and 2009. Again, Massachusetts swept every category….

…But Massachusetts has turned its back on that success. Last summer, the state board of education — without so much as a legislative hearing or vote — discarded standards and testing in favor of something weaker called the Common Core State Standards Initiative plus yet-to-be-developed national tests.

When Governor Branstad should look to the Bay State as a model for how education reform can take place without federal involvement (pre-2010), he instead wants to follow the example of their State Board of Education by encouraging our state board to do the same.

While Massachusetts had measurable success, Sturgios and Burke note that advocates of a national standards can’t point to a similar track record:

Improvement such as was achieved in Massachusetts is rare in a U.S. public education landscape littered with failure. Even so, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota are among the states that can point to measurable progress.

Advocates of national standards — including trade organizations and special-interest groups such as Achieve, the Gates Foundation, the Council of Chief State Schools Officers and the National Governors Association — would be hard-pressed to point to a single program they’ve developed that definitively boosted student achievement.

The same can be said for the 32-year history of the U.S. Department of Education. The contrast between the triumph of local control in Massachusetts and decades of unproductive federal involvement in education couldn’t be clearer.

If Iowa is to truly regain prominence in education once again Governor Branstad needs to take this cautionary tale to heart.

Originally posted at American Principles in Action

The Iowa Education Summit Was A Good Start

By Eric Goranson

During Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Education Summit, I was struck by the relatively balanced list of speakers, the diversity of ideas, and the civil tone of those in attendance as they listened to everyone’s points of view. I was also fascinated by the backchannel discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #iaedsummit.

The two speakers who seemed to get the most news coverage were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Arne Duncan, come to find out, has delivered a similar speech to the one he delivered at education summit in many different states, varying statistics and the state’s name to fit the audience. Although it was a pretty canned speech, I appreciate the fact that he called out Iowa on its lackluster performance and need for change. I appreciate that he acknowledged Iowa’s local districts and our state need increased flexibility and less Federal red tape. That’s where the hang-up is for me on Sec. Duncan, though. He reminds me, to some degree, of a TBN televangelist. 90% of what he says is great but it’s the 10% that most don’t really notice that does the most harm. He says he believes in the 10th Amendment, that states need flexibility, and that local authorities respond best to the needs of their children. He then presides over the largest takeover of education policy by the Federal Government in our nation’s history through Race To The Top grants and its foisting of Common Core Standards and other commitments onto states. His rhetoric and his actions aren’t consistent and I’m afraid his “real reformer” street-cred is still more of a rock-star perception than reality. Time will tell. I appreciated much of his speech, however, and was grateful he took the time to come to Iowa.

Governor Christie was a surprise for me. I’ve seen him in other settings on the East Coast in smaller venues with friendlier audiences.  At those events I was blown away by his powerful, no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches approach. It’s refreshing. He did something pretty masterful in Iowa on Monday: he adapted to the audience. He didn’t change or apologize for his position on the issue. He didn’t praise anyone he’s never praised before. He simply made a moral argument for change instead of confrontational calling out of his opponents. He argued for an accounting of what all stakeholders agree on.  He challenged every party to the education discussion to be willing to start with the things they can agree on. He laid out an excellent case that, whatever Iowa does, it must act quickly and decisively. Our kids that are currently in the system and those just about to enter it don’t have time for political back-and-forth. They need systemic change now.

You can’t help but sit in a room with 1,700 people and start to look at the forest through the trees. Too often, we focus on the 4-6 largest trees that overshadow the rest of the forest and go to them thinking we have “stakeholder input.” The smaller trees are too often missed. And those smaller trees are the innovators, the forgotten, the overlooked, the resourceful, and the most willing to step out and do new things. They are urban public schools successfully trying new things to curb discipline issues. Private providers innovating in virtual learning and attracting great teachers. Homeschoolers exponentially growing their ranks without anyone asking why. They are business leaders who are looking to get into the education sphere but don’t feel welcome because of the political process or teacher certification requirements. Most importantly, they are the average mom or dad who has high hopes for their kid but feels unwelcome or without choice. These are the stakeholders I hope Governor Branstad, the Iowa Department of Education, and Legislators look to for ideas. The typical stakeholders that are the most visible and to whom we usually go to for ideas have the most to lose and will be the most vested in the status quo. Although I believe they will come around and can add tremendous value to the conversation, the typical approach to education policy making just won’t do anymore.

The Iowa Education Summit was good. The hard work, however, is yet to come. I believe that Iowa has all the resources and talent it needs to reform and direct it’s own future in education. We have done this before and can do it again. It will take time. If we empower parents instead of continuously disenfranchising them and if we give local schools all the flexibility in the world to meet the clear and rigorous standards Iowa should adopt, then we’ll see reform that lasts for generations.  Only then will we see continuous improvement and increased choice in educational vehicles and options for parents.

Eric Goranson is the Iowa State Director and Policy Director for American Principles Project’s Preserve Innocence Initiative.  He is also a member of the Iowa State Board of Education.

Originally posted at Caffeinated Thoughts

Learning from the Bay State’s mistake

Learning from the Bay State’s mistake
By James Stergios & Lindsey Burke  07/25/2011

James Stergios is executive director of The Pioneer Institute. Lindsey Burke is an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. They are co-hosts of an event, National Standards and Tests, set for 12:30 p.m. July 27 at The Heritage Foundation.

Iowa Governor Branstad’s Unfortunate Praise of Common Core Standards

imageThose who have read my writing long enough know how I feel about the Iowa Core Curriculum.  I think it stinks.  It has huge problems.  Its history curriculum, in particular, stinks to high heaven.  It centralizes education and further removes educational decisions from parents.

There is nothing good about it.  Iowa Governor Terry Branstad today in his speech at the Iowa Education Summit said that the way to improve the Iowa Core was to in my estimation replace it with something worse.  He said, “The State Board of Education’s decision to add the new, voluntary Common Core State Standards in math and literacy strengthens the Iowa Core.”

How does it do that?

Consider some facts about the common core standards

  • They were not field tested.
  • They teach math skills two years later than it is taught in high performing countries.
  • It uses a geometry program that is outdated; discarded by the former Soviet Union 25 years ago.
  • In literature arts it replaces American literature curriculum which is rich in requiring students to read excellent literary works with a curriculum that is consists of 70% “informational texts.”  A perfect vehicle for driving indoctrination in our schools.

So again how does it improve things?  How will these standards make Iowa a world leader in education?  The simple fact is that they won’t.  The common core standards do not collectively raise the bar for education, instead it lowers it.

Not to mention, what public input has there been in implementing the Common Core Standards?  Has there been a legislative vote to amend the Iowa Core Curriculum?  No.  What authority do they have to do this?  None from what I can see in the Iowa Constitution.

It’s too bad that our Governor who has a worthy goal of wanting to improve education in our state has been convinced by the education lobby that centralization is the answer.

Cross-posted at Caffeinated Thoughts

Common-Core Writers Craft Curriculum Criteria

Common-Core Writers Craft Curriculum Criteria
Catherine Gewertz  July 22, 2011  Education Week

…crossing the line into telling teachers how to teach.

Working under a contract with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation…

One central tension in the discussion has been trying to address the need for instructional tools without dictating pedagogy; another has been the question of who should shape curriculum design.

Jamie McKee, who helps lead common-standards work for the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, said that while the foundation “cares deeply about the quality of the [instructional] materials that come from the common core,” it hasn’t yet decided whether it favors a panel or process for validating such materials.

Iowa’s Decline in Education

The Iowa Department of Education released a 28 page report today detailing the state of education in Iowa.

It’s dismal.  You can’t deny the facts presented – especially with reading and the achievement gap with students with disabilities.  I fully agree with Jason Glass, the State Director of the Iowa Department of Education, when he said in the report, “The persistence and size of the achievement gap for students with disabilities in Iowa is not just embarrassing—it is intolerable.”

It is intolerable.  While we all agree that education in Iowa needs improvement there is much disagreement on how we got there and the way forward.

The report in discussing the past mentions several things I find interesting:

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) approved by Congress in 2001. NCLB was signed into law in 2002, holds schools accountable for student achievement levels and imposes penalties for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward meeting the goals of NCLB. Iowa adopted accountability measures aligned with the goals of NCLB.

The Iowa Teaching Standards developed and adopted by the State Board of Education in 2002. The Iowa Standards for School Leaders followed in 2008. These initiatives gave districts new, evidence-based models for quality teaching methods.

The Iowa Core contains essential concepts and skills in English/language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics, as well as 21st century skills in financial literacy, health literacy, and other key areas. The Iowa Core represents the state’s work to set high expectations for all students. Setting these statewide expectations was an important step for Iowa toward becoming an education “system” as opposed to a loose confederation of school districts.

While this certainly isn’t the only reason for the decline, but one can’t help but notice that while Iowa decline has occurred congruently with a movement toward centralization – No Child Left Behind, The Iowa Teaching Standards, and The Iowa Core (I also find it interesting that they dropped “curriculum” from the title and are just calling it “The Iowa Core.”)

Contrast that with Massachusetts who has seen student achievement improve and they have become more localized.  Has Iowa moving toward “becoming an education ‘system’ as opposed to a loose confederation of school districts” really been a good thing?  Wasn’t Iowa that loose confederation when they ranked #1 in education?  Granted changes in culture, a sense of entitlement, among other problems have contributed to the decline, but how has centralization helped?  What empirical data can they show?  None.

The way forward… the #1 suggestion made in the report is to have “clear standards with high expectations and accountability for results.”  Ok, who sets the standards?  Who provides the accountability?  Based on the current trajectory we can guess… educrats at the state and federal level.  Already the Iowa State Board of Education is aligning the “Iowa Core” with national common core standards.  The fact that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is making an appearance at the upcoming education summit next week shouldn’t be lost on us either.

It would seem that the current approach, when it comes to centralization, fits the definition of insanity quite well, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You can read the report below:

Iowa Rising to Greatness 082111(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

Originally published at American Principles in Action.