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Tod Bowman

Herald Staff Writer

Strong local schools prepare Iowa students to succeed and help our economy grow.  

That’s why new ideas to help Iowa students succeed are always welcome. After all, our students are competing with young people from around the world for jobs and other opportunities in today’s global economy.

In the Senate, I’ve built on Iowa’s tradition of educational excellence by making sure kids start school ready to learn, helping keep the best teachers in our classrooms, raising standards to make a high school diploma more meaningful, and providing workers with training for in-demand jobs.

These efforts hit a roadblock during the 2011 session. The fight against deep, unnecessary cuts to education at every level made it one of the longest legislative sessions in Iowa history. Fortunately, Iowans spoke up and the worst cuts were stopped or reduced. Next session, we must do better by Iowa students and schools.

I welcome Gov. Branstad’s new focus on education. He is calling for raising academic standards, increasing the effectiveness of educators, and innovations that enhance learning. The ultimate goal is improving student achievement, something we want.

The best way to reach these goals will be hammered out in the coming months. As a lifelong educator, I am passionate about creating world class schools here in Iowa and look forward to taking the steps to provide our students the best educational opportunities.

The governor’s proposal, which you can read at www.governor.iowa.gov, is 16 pages of ideas, most of which have been discussed for decades. But much work will need to be done to turn these ideas into policies that improve student achievement. Several of the governor’s ideas seem workable, such as:

• Developing a statewide one-stop educator recruiting, application and licensure process. 

• Creating a state clearinghouse of high-quality online courses available to all students in Iowa.

• Providing online courses with a licensed teacher and providing for the best learning technology. 

• Expanding high school students’ opportunities to learn through community career internships.

Attracting and supporting talented teachers sounds wonderful, but what will it cost? I find it difficult to believe more funding will be available when the governor previously proposed two straight years of no new basic state aid for our local schools and wanted to eliminate Iowa’s early childhood education efforts.

The governor is proposing a new salary schedule for educators, but I am uncertain how teachers will be assessed. How do we measure effectiveness in teachers and students? The new job categories for teachers lack clear definition, leaving me uncertain how a teacher will grow and achieve in their profession. This salary system includes a quota of teachers at each level which is not based on any criteria.

I like the fact that the governor wants to invest in high-quality, research-based summer school for students who are struggling with reading. But I’m not so sure about his proposal that third-grade students who fail one standardized reading test should have to repeat third grade. Research shows that students who are held back are much more likely to drop out of high school. Research also suggests that struggling readers should be helped prior to third grade if we want to better ensure these kids ultimately graduate from high school.

These are just a few of my thoughts, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months. Now I’d like to hear some of your ideas. What do you think are some good ways to improve student achievement? How can every local school offer a world-class education?

I encourage you to review the governor’s education proposal. Then let me know what you think. Your ideas will help me prepare for the 2012 legislative session.

Senator Tod Bowman serves the people of Iowa’s Senate District 13, which includes Jackson County, northeast Clinton County and southeast Dubuque County.

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