A bipartisan group is calling on legislators to dramatically raise teacher pay in Iowa, and dramatically change the way schools operate. The Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce says legislators should set aside 150 million dollars this year to boost the pay of teachers in Iowa’s K-through-12 public schools.
That’s five times as much as Democrat Governor Tom Vilsack has proposed, but Des Moines attorney Doug Gross, a member of the task force and Vilsack’s Republican opponent in 2004, says it’s time for bolder action. “In my law practice I deal with people in Iowa, their companies are trying to compete with companies that employ people in India,” Gross says. “If we don’t have higher level skills in Iowa, long-term, our people in Iowa will lose their jobs.” Gross says for the first time in Iowa’s history, kids are getting a “second class education” in many Iowa schools.
The group wants new “performance standards” developed for schools, leading to a day when students aren’t held in one grade for eight months but are instead moved along the learning curve at their own pace. “We’ve been moving kids through our K-through-12 system based on the amount of time they sit at a desk,” Gross says. “It’s not based on what they know or what they’ve accomplished or what their capabilities are. We’re saying that Iowa ought to be the first state in the country to establish proficiency standards and those standards about what you know and what you can accomplish and what you can do are what determine how you move through the system.” Gross says the group, which included both Republicans and Democrats as well as the president of the state teacher’s union, is issuing a “siren call” for change.
Gross says the group’s first goal is to make sure the people of Iowa realize the consequences of failing to act. University of Northern Iowa president Robert Koob, co-chair of the Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce, says Iowa’s education system must change. “If you were born in Iowa, you were among one of the luckiest people in the United States…but several things have changed,” Koob says. The nature of work and competition from workers in other countries means Iowa schools have to adapt, according to Koob. “The 21 century provides for us a whole different environment than the one in which our current school system was created,” Koob says.