The State Board of Education Thursday voted down 5-4 another attempt to require students in Iowa schools to pass all their courses to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. Students are currently required to get a D in at least four of their six classes to stay eligible. Boardmember Charles Edwards proposed the change. “To have such an embarrassingly low level, I think undermines our credibility, and for that matter I think it undermines the governor and the director of the department (of Education),” Edwards says. “To have the opportunity to raise, the responsibility to raise and to not, to me undermines all our credibility with the public. Edwards says the strong belief in local control and the failure of this issue could have implications for other efforts to make education standards more rigorous.
He says there’s a strong reluctance on the part of the board to intervene or step in and provide the leadership. He says it runs contrary to the culture of the state, and the culture on the board and he says it could signal a problem for the governor in the state intervening (in education issues) and showing more proactive leadership.
Boardmember Greg McClain of Waterloo made a similar proposal that was voted down in November of 2002. McClain was again not happy with the outcome.
He says, “We had an opportunity here to show are leadership and take a stand for students and high expectations, and we turned tail. It’s just the same old, same old. When something is tough, when something is controversial, we give in.” McClain says he still believes the standard needs to be tougher.
McClain says, “This is not, not over. As long as I’m here I’m going to continue to fight for this. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to allow students to participate in extracurricular activities with failing grades. It’s just absolutely stupid.” McClain says the increase would barely have raised what is an already low standard. He says to pass a class is not asking a lot. And says “I’m very, very, very, embarassed.”
Board President Gene Vincent of Carroll cast the deciding vote that killed the measure and afterward handed out a written statement explaining his actions. He says in the statement, “The question here today is no whether we should raise expectations or our students, but who should be the one to set those expectations. Boardmember Wayne Kobberdahl of Council Bluffs also voted against the issue and agreed with Vincent. He says the issue is not one of academics, he says he thinks everyone on the board would support academic rigor. He says the real issue is who is the proper governing body to implement the academic standards. Kobberdahl says it’s not a matter of education. He says, “It’s a philosophical struggle between those who feel strongly local control or state control, that’s I really think the issue here.” Kobberdahl says it appears that a majority of schools have already adopted standards tougher than the state minimum anyway.
He says he’s not sure how widespread the problem is. “I’m don’t know how many students out there have four D’s and two F’s and are playing in the band, or playing football or whatever. I question whether there are really that many. I sometimes wonder if we have a solution looking for a problem.”
Other boardmembers voting against the proposal were: Jim Billings of Clive, Sally Fruden of Charles City and Rosie Hussey of Mason City. Mary Jean Montgomery of Spencer and SisterJude Fitzpatrick of West Des Moines voted in favor of the issue along with Edwards and McClain.