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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

School Choice Week and Allowable Growth

Its somewhat ironic to me that the Iowa legislature is debating the insultingly low allowable growth rate proposed by Governor Branstad during School Choice Week.  If you read this article, pointedly against the School Choice movement, there is one undeniable fact included.  It is, as Valerie Strauss is quoted, that high achieving education systems of other countries have a distinct advantage;
“It bears mentioning that nations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do.”
The irony is in a Marc Jacobs editorial in the Des Moines Register on Sunday.  Jacobs, a former Texan and  Iowa Senate candidate lauds the successes of charter schools, a dubious and often discredited claim.  And in the article he recognizes that Iowa demographics are changing:
Iowa's demographics are also changing. A greater percentage of our students come from low-income households, and we have a growing population of minorities. On average, children in low-income neighborhoods are 2 to 2 ½ grade levels behind their peers in higher-income areas by the time they get to eighth grade.
As a matter of fact he even recognizes that Iowa students aren't doing worse, they are just being outpaced by other states:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Free/Reduced lunch rates in rural Iowa

In this screen capture from the ISFIS mapping tool,  you can watch the growth of free and reduced lunch rates from 2002 - 2014.   Dark blue represents districts with greater than 41% free and reduced.  As you watch these rates grow, you can pick out the suburban and bedroom communities around urban centers by the lack of change.

This is one indicator of poverty rates, which are known to be reflected in student achievement as these students do not get the educational opportunities from home that others might.  How our legislature addresses funding for schools could support schools with high F/R rates, but 1.25% allowable growth will do nothing to support these rural schools, who more often than not are losing money with declining enrollment.

Thanks to Larry Sigel and ISFIS for this great mapping tool.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Iowa Common Core and Statewide Assessments

As I watch the beginnings of the legislative session, its interesting what pops up from time to time.  I am still amazed at the home schooling bills that went through two years ago, virtually eliminating any oversight by school districts.  Hopefully they will see the errors of their ways sometime on that one.

The bill I am concerned with today is Senate File 16 (SF16) which removes requirements that the soon to be chosen statewide assessment program align with Iowa Core standards and key concepts.  I hope that legislators stay committed to the Common Core and an assessment aligned with those standards.  Iowa Common Core elevates rigor and holds teachers accountable.  Its a roadmap to success for students.

I know there are people with misgivings about how Common Core came to be.  The issue, though is if it is good for Iowa Students and teachers.  We see that it is.  When the legislature considers adopting a statewide assessment, I hope that they stick with the Smarter Balanced Assessment that has been recommended by their task force.  It keeps us all on task with Common Core implementation and assessment.  

For resources for parents and teachers about Iowa Common Core, click here.
Staying with a good program is vital to education improvement.  If you get a chance to visit with lawmakers, please support the Iowa Core along with you message for adequate and on-time funding for Iowa schools.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Iowa legislature Convenes next week

Its that time of year again when our elected officials return to Des Moines for 100 days of legislating.  I had a great conversation with our local Senators and Representatives on Friday at a legislative forum in West Union.  Senators Brian Shoenjahn, Mary Jo Wilhelm, and Micheal Breitbach, along with Representatives Bruce Bearinger, Patti Ruff, and Darrel Branhagen were present.

Of course one of my biggest issues is our Allowable Growth rate, which they now refer to as Supplemental State Aid.  By law the new rate for the 2015-16 school year should have been set last January.  I need to start negotiating with our staffs, making a plan for staffing our schools next year, and certify a budget in the next 90 days.  I hope they act fast on both the FY16 and FY17 growth rate so we don't have to go through this again next year.

More importantly than acting fast though is to provide adequate funding to meet Governor Branstad's goal of returning Iowa to #1 in education. We have fallen behind in student achievement in correlation with our level of per pupil funding compared to other states.

As you can see, Iowa's contribution per pupil has fallen to $1600 less than the national average.  I do not understand how we can set a goal of making Iowa #1 in education when we are approximately #37 in funding.  Yes, the state is making a good contribution to our Teacher Leadership and Compensation plan, but that is categorical funding, inflationary costs in goods and services continue to rise and we need to close this gap in order to avoid cutting staff.

On this next chart you see the correlation.   The Iowa drop in NAEP achievement is actually faster than the drop in per pupil spending.  It also is impacted by our poverty rates.  In 2001 Iowa had 28% of families qualifying for free and reduced lunches.  In 2013, that moves up to 41%.  Its not that these families of Low Socio-economic Status (SES) homes are at fault, but it is a fact that they cannot afford the educational opportunities for their children that everyone else can. Research shows this vocabulary gap impacts rates of learning.  Consider;

  • First-grade children from higher SES groups know about twice as many words as lower SES children (Graves, Brunetti, & Slater, 1982; Graves & Slater, 1987).
These kids need more resources to help them achieve in school.  Our funding gap exacerbates that issue.  Please advocate for a Supplemental State Aid growth that can help us help all students be more successful.  If Iowa is going to compete to be the best they need to level the financial  playing field.