An Iowa school classroom The Iowa Senate has endorsed a bill which would establish new, statewide standards for the courses taught in Iowa schools. Senator Brian Schoenjahn, a Democrat from Arlington, was the bill’s chief advocate. 

"We are making progress in our efforts to increase student achievement across Iowa and we’re increasing basic state aid to our local schools and we’re bringing teacher pay up to 25th in the nation and making quality preschool available to all of Iowa families," Schoenjahn said during Senate debate. "The next step is raising standards and increasing expectations."

The bill calls on Iowa school districts to offer the state-mandated "core" of coursework by the fall of 2012 in the state’s high schools. "It does help create dynamic, relevant classrooms that produce the kind of teaching we want from our educators and the kind of work we want from our students," Schoenjahn said.

The bill had critics. Senator Paul McKinley, a Republican from Chariton, said the bill is a "radical departure" from the status quo. "It does take away local control. It takes away a very important part of Iowa’s education system that has served us quite well over the years to replace it with more state mandates that will result in further decline of students’ achievement," McKinley said.

After about two hours of debate, Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque who is a retired educator, snapped at the complaints from Republicans. "Are you for standards or not? Some of you are arguing that you don’t want the standards and now you’re arguing that we want standards, but the ones we’re offering aren’t rigorous enough. You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth," Connolly said. "…This is the square root of ridiculous."

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, replied. "This is like zero cubed because we don’t have standards in this bill," Johnson said. "…I’ve even heard people say, ‘Well, we just want to set standards that students can achieve. You know what that means? That means lowering the bar."

Senator Keith Kreiman of Bloomfield was the only Democrat to vote against the bill.  "I don’t like that the federal government and the state government are mandating more and more and more on our administrators and our teachers so that our administrators have less time to administer and our teachers have less time to teach," Kreiman said.

The bill, which cleared the Senate on a 36 to 14 vote, will next be considered in the Iowa House.