A new report card, issued by the Iowa Department of Education in advance of the upcoming Iowa Education Summit running Monday and Tuesday, claims to confirm one of the primary beliefs of the Branstad Administration. Iowa’s education system just isn’t what it used to be.
The report card examines individual facets of the education system, frequently highlighting Iowa’s failure to keep up academically with other states and countries. Studies show achievement gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines and an overall failure to establish the state as a leader in advanced mathematics.
“Today we stand at an important decision point for Iowa,” said Jason Glass, Gov. Branstad’s hand-picked Director of Education, in the report. “The key question we face is: ‘Are we willing to do what will be necessary to make Iowa’s schools great?’”
Specific findings include:
• A significant discrepancy in academic achievements between certain student demographics. Educators call this the “Achievement Gap,” and it is frequently identified as one of the primary concerns in schools today.
The report cites ITBS reading proficiency tests taken in the fourth grade. White and Asian students perform at a consistent level, while black and hispanic students trend 20 to 25 percentage points lower. Mathematics results were similar, though some narrowing of results has been seen in the last five years.
Socioeconomic status also appears to have an affect on students performance, according to the report. Students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch program perform consistently lower than students ineligible for the program.
The gap between disabled and non-disabled students may be the most troubling. A study based on 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress testing, shows Iowa has the largest performance gap based on disabilities in the nation. More than 55 percentage points divide disabled and non-disabled students in both reading and math.
• In 1992, the oft-cited gold standard year for Iowa education, no state performed better in NAEP fourth-grade reading scores or eighth grade mathematics scores.
In 2009, Iowa hovered near the middle on each. The 2009 NAEP testing also revealed that 29 percent of Iowa eighth graders were enrolled in Algebra I or another high level math course. Only three states had a lower enrollment percentage.
• ACT scores in Iowa trend higher than the national average, but the percentage of test takers who met all four ACT benchmarks was 30 percent in 2010.
Iowa also ties for 16th worst in bachelor degrees per capita. Only 25.1 percent of adults older than the age of 25 have a bachelors degree or higher academic distinction, whereas neighboring states Illinois and Minnesota show numbers upwards of 30 percent.
“Our greatest hope (for the summit) is that we leave with a lot of ideas and some consensus that we can improve Iowa’s schools,” Glass said in the statement. “We have to build a compelling vision for what education in Iowa might be like — a significant remodel of what we have now.”
Glass attended a Rotary Club meeting in Clinton on Monday, July 11, and discussed some goals for Iowa’s education system. Believing that the current system doesn’t encourage top-tier talent to become educators, Glass discussed reformatting teacher pay.
Conversely, Glass said the practice of terminating inadequate teachers, something he said is complicated due to union requirements, needs to be considered more often. This philosophy has led some to call him an education reformer, a distinction he is not comfortable with as he says firing teachers is not his main objective.
The education summit will be held at the Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines. Educators from across the state will gather to discuss the future of the system, and attempt to formulate ideas to return Iowa to the top.