NEA and Iowa DE join hands in Opposing Obama’s Education Reform

Recently the NEA bitterly criticized the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program which is the linchpin of this president’s education reform effort. The union went so far as to say that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is reneging on his promise to promote education reform.

What sparked NEA’s ire? The proposed federal regulations for Race to the Top, an Obama initiative with $4.35 billion available to the states that apply.

The regulations give more money and greater preference to states that do three things:

1. Encourage the use test scores for evaluating teachers;
2. Increase the number of high quality charter schools; and
3. Expand routes for alternative teacher licensure.

In a snappishly worded letter, the union said that it doesn’t support these three things. Yet President Obama campaigned on these values and Arne Duncan built his heroic reputation on the philosophy behind each of these reforms.

Kay Brilliant, the NEA’s director of education policy and practice, indignantly wrote: “… appears that the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America’s public schools.”

The union fear-mongered that legal challenges to local collective bargaining agreements would result if test scores are used for evaluating, paying and granting teachers tenure.

The Iowa Department of Education’s written comments on the federal regulations echo NEA’s opposition.

The state agency danced away from linking student achievement and teacher performance saying it is unfair and could be abused. The Iowa DE writes: “Efforts in linking students to teacher should focus on evaluating effective teaching strategies….rather than either a punitive or reward system for individuals.”

Regarding charter schools, as you read the comment below, remember that Iowa has one of the most inflexible charter school laws in the country. Every charter must operate with the confines of a local school district. Iowa’s restrictive law means only 8 school districts operate a “charter” school. Far below the state cap of 20.

The Iowa DE mistakenly interprets the small number of charter schools in Iowa to low public interest. The Iowa DE writes:

“Expecting that states lift the charter cap when there is little or no interest on the part of the public to add charter schools seems a political ploy rather than a realistic avenue to improving student learning.”

On the issue of providing alternative pathways for Iowans to become teachers and principals, the Iowa DE asks to remove the requirement from the Race to the Top application that states expand alternative licensing of teachers and principals. The state agency believes that the “culture and context” of the state should dictate alternative licensing. With 110,000 unemployed Iowans and chronic teacher shortages, the Iowa DE might want to re-check its “culture and context” threshold.

Regarding quality indicators for the college programs that prepare Iowa’s teachers, the Iowa DE writes:

“Teacher preparation programs should not be publically measured solely based upon the state assessment of students of the teachers and principals they educate. This should be removed.”

Finally, just two months ago Governor Culver proudly proclaimed that Iowa joined 49 other states in a common core national standards project sponsored by the National Governor’s Association (NGA).

According to the Iowa Department of Education’s web site, to insure rigor and relevance the NGA will create an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as the standards. This committee will be composed of nationally and internationally recognized and trusted education experts who are neutral to – and independent of – the process.

At that time Education Director Judy Jeffrey said:

“With our recently passed Iowa Core Curriculum, Iowa can easily incorporate national standards because the Core Curriculum provides more explicit guidance to reach high expectations.”

Today, however, the Iowa DE objects to the making these rigorous national standards a mandatory feature of Race to the Top. The state agency says they should be voluntary. Page 4 of the Iowa DE’s comments read: “Eliminate the requirement that moves a voluntary participation for national standards to mandatory.”

This article closes by noting that ISEA and School Administrators of Iowa wrote letters endorsing the Iowa DE’s comments to the U.S. DE.