By BAILEY POOLMAN
CNA staff reporter
Iowa education reform finally has a path to follow.
“I’m kind of excited about this reform, and not just about the reform, but that they’re looking at new things,” said Karleen Stephens, superintendent of Diagonal Community Schools. “We can’t use the same (things) that we did 100 years ago, and I’m excited that Iowa’s looking into that.”
Gov. Terry Branstad signed the new education reform bill into law June 3. The bill will become law July 1, the start of the 2013-14 school year.
“The 2013 education reform bill promises to provide all Iowa schools with the support they need to significantly raise student achievement,” Branstad said in a story by the Iowa Republican. “Change is never easy. But it was particularly painful that we had to acknowledge that Iowa slipped over the past two decades from a national leader in education to the middle of the pack.”
The bill consists of different components about what the education system will focus on.
Allowable growth will increase 2 percent next year, and will include an additional 2 percent bonus. The following school year, allowable growth will increase to 4 percent.
“For Bedford, 2 percent allowable growth doesn’t make a whole lot of difference,except that we’ll collect less property tax money throuh the 100 percent guarantee,” said Bedford, Clearfield and Mount Ayr superintendent Joe Drake. “Our enrollment declined so much that we were under the 100 percent guarantee.”
The 100 percent guarantee means the school district is guaranteed at least what they collected before the drop in enrollment.
One component is that teachers will be paid more. The base pay will be raised from $28,000 to $33,500. Teachers can also receive extra pay by accepting leadership roles.
For teachers that are not brand-new, yet don’t have salaries above the new base, Drake said the state will help the districts pay the teachers appropriately.
“They’ll give us additional state aid to bring the salaries where they need to be,” said Drake.
Another component is that schools will be given a choice to follow minimum instructional time in terms of hours or days. Schools can choose between 180 days, which is the current measurement, or 1,080 hours. This allows schools to make up snow days with flexibility, adding time to the school day rather than adding school days at the end of the year.
“I would favor the 1,080 hours versus the 180 days,” said Chuck Scott, Creston interim superintendent. “Under 1,080 hours, you have to record the time students are in the classroom receiving instruction.”
Under the 180 days option, professional development, parent-teacher conferences and days where buses pick up children just to drop them off at home again because of inclement weather count as instructional days.
With the 1,080 hours option, schools must look at how much time children are actually instructed.
The bill creates college loan programs that will be available to students who want to teach in high-need areas. It also creates a simple approach to connect teachers with jobs in schools by establishing a statewide online job-posting system, making applying and hiring for jobs more efficient.
Pilot programs in competency-based education will be created. This is based on a student’s mastery of content instead of age and grade, or having to wait for classmates to catch up.
“A child needs to know a certain set of skills before they can advance to the next level,” said Stephens. “I wouldn’t say it’s learning at their own pace, but it could include that. I think kids need to be held accountable for learning certain Iowa core skills before advancing to the next level. I think it has some interesting aspects to it, and I think it might raise a level of concern for all students that this is serious.”
The bill expands Iowa Learning Online, which is a state-run system that provides courses online and through Iowa Communications Network since 2004. This expansion will provide additional learning opportunitites to students in districts that don’t offer certain subjects.
“It’ll increase the number of courses the students have to choose from, and today’s student, they are very comfortable learning online,” Stephens said. “So, I think it’s a logical step. I think that the traditional classroom setting is still an important piece of a high school student’s education, but I think it’s good for them to be able to learn both face-to-face and also online with kids from other schools.”
According to Drake, in Mount Ayr Community Schools, allowable growth will make a difference because the district’s enrollment hasn’t declined. Drake said he expects approximately $115,000 in allowable growth, and $75,000 in the 2 percent bonus.
The 2 percent bonus is a one-time bonus that is based on the original 2 percent allowable growth. The 2014-15 school year allowable growth of 4 percent is based on only the original 2 percent allowable growth as well.