The leader of a group that’s encouraged Iowa lawmakers to spend 150-million dollars to raise teacher pay next year says it’s not only about improving Iowa’s K-through-12 schools, it’s about credibility.
University of Northern Iowa president Robert Koob is co-chair of the Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce, a bipartisan group that’s pushing for major education reform.
“The state of Iowa, through its legislators, has to reestablish credibility with its teachers,” Koob says.
A 2001 state law that established new requirements for teachers, and promised higher salaries that never materialized, is seen as a “bait and switch” by the state’s teachers, according to Koob. Senate Republicans have said they would only favor spending 30-million more to raise teacher pay if future pay hikes are tied to performance.
Koob says it will take time to develop such a system, and the state’s teachers, administrators and school boards need to be involved in developing a merit-based pay system. “To just say we want that, without that structure in place, can be fearful because our record in the past is that we add additional responsibilities, but we don’t reward them,” Koob says.
Koob, as U-N-I’s president, oversees the state’s largest teachers college. He spoke Friday to the Iowa State Education Association’s annual meeting in Ames, then sat down for an interview with Radio Iowa. “I don’t detect teachers saying that ‘I want to be paid for not performing.’ Most teachers are performing really well (and saying) ‘Pay me.’ That’s a legitimate point of view,” Koob says. “On a microscopic level, the fact that Iowa’s (students are) doing so well in whatever level of national exams or measures you want to use for such mid-level to below-mid-level pay is a measure of excellent performance on the part of teachers now.”
Koob says for Iowa to maintain its status as an educational leader, and to keep teachers in the classroom, the legislature must show that teachers will be rewarded, financially, for their efforts. Koob, however, is not willing to wade into the middle of the current legislative debate over just how to commit to raising teacher pay. “I think I need to stay out of that one, to be honest with you,” Kobb says. “The Institute (for Tomorrow’s Workforce), as you know, suggested $150 million. We thought that this is an absolutely critical step. We think the data’s clear that teachers are underpaid.”
Koob points to a recent poll which found a majority of Iowans now believe teachers are underpaid. “I don’t have any special crystal ball, but I’m encouraged by the fact that it occurs to be more, legitimately debatable now than it was even two or three years ago,” Koob says. He says that means it’s time for him and others like him to spend the energy to get legislators to act.