A panel of five Iowa business leaders today urged Governor Branstad to shake-up the state’s education system with new approaches, better pay for teachers and a wider welcome for immigrants.
Branstad’s staff arranged the hour-long roundtable discussion as a warm-up for the education “summit” Branstad plans to host later this month.
John Bloomhall is president and CEO of Diamond V Mills, a Cedar Rapids-based company that distributes animal feed and nutrition products around the globe. He suggested letting students collaborate more.
“If I had a classroom, I’d put the (students) in charge of being successful: ‘Your job is to make sure every kid gets a passing grade. You guys figure it out,'” Bloomhall said. “…When we look at how we manage in the classroom, it’s very old-fashioned.”
The business leaders also expressed concern about the reading and writing skills of today’s graduates. Clayton Jones — chairman, president and CEO of Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids — bemoaned Iowa students’ falling test scores in math and science.
“The rest of the world is increasing in that area and they’re doing it because they know there’s a direct relationship to personal net wealth and gross domestic state product,” Jones said. P
ioneer Hi-Bred president Paul Schickler chimed in on the subject, and got the whole table talking.
“With science and math, it’s something you can’t start late in your career. In high school and college, it’s too late,” Schickler said. “You need to instill that interest at a young age.”
Bankers Trust president and CEO Suku Radia said he’s concerned about that Iowa students aren’t spending enough time in the classroom.
“Since I grew up in east Africa, we were subject to the British educational system. We did go to school 48 weeks a year,” Radia said. “…I realize there are all sorts of reasons for the summer hiatus here, but I think the kids lose a lot…so I am a very big proponent of year-round schools.”
And Mary O’Keefe, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group, made an impassioned plea for spending more money on inner city schools where more minority students are enrolled.
“The demographics of the U.S. and the demographics of Iowa are downright frightening when you look at how we’re able to attract and welcome newcomers, which is what our country has been based on and if newcomers are in the inner-city schools, if there are more language difficulties, we have to resource them,” she said. “We have to provide some equity.”
The business leaders also agreed that private sector workers are paid based on their performance, and it’s time to ensure the best-performing teachers are paid well — and teachers in high-demand subject areas like math and science are paid even better. The governor told reporters after the panel’s conclusion that he’s taking input from all sorts of folks before the summit. This afternoon the governor”s meeting with leaders in Iowa’s education community, including the president of Iowa State University and K-through-12 educators.