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Monday, February 27, 2017

A bill for Education Savings Accounts is illogical in Iowa

As a public school superintendent you probably already know I am opposed to shifting public dollars to private schools or home schoolers.  Let me give you some reasons that as a voter you'll also find good reasons to oppose ESA's.

First of all is this recent Iowa Poll:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2017/02/26/iowa-poll-majority-oppose-using-public-funds-private-school/97996574/?mc_cid=16f84b47f9&mc_eid=5272d8f81d  58% of Iowans are opposed to public money for private schools.  I believe that is largely because we do not have the problems of the very large urban areas across the nation.  Some states do suffer from over reach by their teacher unions, or the lack of quality instruction that creates poor behaviors and many dropouts.  Iowa leads the nation in graduation rate (91%) and so this should be the last place where the Voucher or school choice movement should get a foothold.

Research shows that Education Savings Accounts will do little for any poor rural Iowa students. Most likely because they are not geographically accessible in most of rural Iowa. But also because the students who attend private schools may be paying more than the voucher is worth, and poor folks won't be able to make up that difference. The bill proposed in Iowa would send $200 million to the same people who already send their kids to private schools, not spreading the opportunity to the poor or unqualified students. This movement has been called an effort to re-segregate our schools, sorting students by income level.  In a year when there is no more than $40 Million to increase the investment in 480,000 Iowa public students, spending $200 Million on 33,000 private school students is no way to provide for long term prosperity of all.

There is a myth that gets repeated constantly by people like Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence.  It is the myth of public school failure based on international comparisons on test scores like the Program for International Student Assessment, PISA.  U.S. Public Schools are said to be failing millions of kids who can’t afford to attend a private school. This movement likes to tug on your heart strings with, “If only those poor kids could get out of those terrible public schools they could be saved.”  That is simply not the case. For an explanation of PISA scores in U.S. and abroad read http://wapo.st/2l3V2BL.

The reason U.S. public schools don't look good is because we educate all of our students. When you compare U.S. schools to places like Finland or Singapore or China’s Beijing schools and adjust for poverty levels, the U.S. public schools come out on top. (http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html). In reality, of all of those international tests from other countries or city states, none tests all of their students because they typically do not educate all students like the U.S. does.  These international test comparisons are from the students qualifying or somehow earning the right to be educated in their home country.

For those reasons, I believe Education Savings Accounts are not right for Iowa, Not right for this year and not right for our nation.  If we continue to work on improving our public schools and address the issues of poverty, our students would shine no matter where they went to school.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Post Secondary Data

We have now received our statewide report on Post Secondary status of students over the past 5 years.  I believe this is some of the most important data we can find to indicate our successes or failures.  The data looks at all graduates of NFV and their status in post secondary education, up to and including successful awards of diplomas or certificates.  Here is our data:

Of course this is only important if you have something to compare it to, like statewide data:


For the most part it looks like NFV graduates are outperforming our state averages.  Check the 5 years of graduates earning awards over the 5 years, statewide (bottom grey on columns) to the NFV graduates earning awards (light blue bar on the far right.  Not only are we above the state average for awards, but more of our students are enrolling in post-secondary programs. This includes community colleges, 4 year universities and other certificate bearing education opportunities.  This is going in the right direction for us, and we hope to be able to improve these numbers every year.

Our enrollment in remedial classes is not great, however we remain close to the state average, which is lower than the averages of all our neighboring states.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Are NFV!

First of all I would like to thank everyone who supports the NFV communities and our reorganization vote.  What an awesome turnout and wonderful results.  I pledge to continue to make NFV a point of pride for all of you.  As we work together to create this new school district called North Fayette Valley Community School District over these next 15 months or so, we will rely on input from combined board members and you, our patrons, to continue moving our district forward.  Starting Monday February, 13, when the "Interim Board" is appointed for this new school district, the work of developing policies, contracts and other strategic planning will take a larger and larger focus.  We will be ready on July 1, 2018 to enter the NFV era for our schools.  NFV Pride!

While we have cleared this very important hurdle we have another challenge that needs a response.  Our legislature has approved a very small 1.1% increase in public school funding this past week and they are now working on an overhaul of the collective bargaining law for State of Iowa employees, including teachers.  This could be good for schools, but also has many unintended consequences that we see popping up in our neighbor Wisconsin.  I'll just wait and see how that comes out.  

The bigger challenge is the School Choice movement.  Here is an article by our neighbor Mike Haluska of Decorah on this topic.  Public school advocates need to be aware that the small SSA increase by the Iowa Legislature will be followed up be a potential larger allocation to private school and charter school groups.  They say they are not asking for any of the public school money, but the shifting of priorities in the statehouse is evident.  While they could not fund the Governor's recommendation for 2% SSA they will fund more than that additional $40 million of SSA increase and hand it over to the school choice advocates.  

The bottom line is we do have current choices in Iowa (open enrollment, virtual academies, various home school options and the network of private schools).  Why should we be funding MORE choices when public schools are not failing our youth, the quality of our public schools are far better than some people make you believe.  I'll have more on that in the future, the data is very enlightening.  Thanks for listening and please help us battle the school choice lobbying by contacting your legislators.