Governor Tom Vilsack is preparing to wage a political battle over what he concedes is “tough” ground — the state’s smallest high schools. Vilsack spoke to a room full of Iowa superintendents this morning, and told the group there need to be fewer superintendents in Iowa and fewer small high schools. Vilsack says teachers in smaller schools are often less-experienced, but expected to teach twice as many classes as teachers in bigger schools. And Vilsack says the A-C-T scores of students in small Iowa high schools are — on average — two points worse than kids who go to medium- or large-sized high schools. Vilsack says “when 78 percent of our youngsters are in high schools that the research shows don’t provide them as many (learning) opportunities,” then the state needs to figure out ways to encourage development of “regional academies” as well as more whole-grade sharing and school consolidation. Vilsack says the great thing about small schools is the students get more personal attention because of the small class sizes, but he says there need to be more advanced science and math classes available, so when those small-town students go to college, “they aren’t befuddled.” The closure of a high school is seen by many as a small town’s death knell, and Vilsack expects a fight. Vilsack expects many small town residents to react defensively to his proposal, but the governor says “this is not about criticizing, this is about making things better.” Vilsack says he knows people will be able to show him the kid who graduated from a class of 12 and went to Harvard. But Vilsack says he’s worried about the other 11 students in that small class, and wants to make sure they can succeed in college, too. “This is a challenge,” Vilsack says. “This isn’t about being popular. It’s about getting things done.” Vilsack says Iowa’s education system has always been a major selling-point for the state, but if improvements aren’t made, the state will fall behind and never be able to catch up.
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