Republican Governor Terry Branstad says he wants “bipartisan support” for the education reform “blueprint” he unveiled this morning.
A few Democratic lawmakers were on hand for Branstad’s announcement, including Sharon Steckman of Mason City, a retired teacher. Steckman, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, is skeptical of Branstad’s call to hold third-graders back from advancing to fourth grade if they can’t pass a reading test.
“I have always felt and as an educator that you get much more out of children, out of employees, out of anyone, with a positive feedback to those kids,” Steckman said.
Steckman praised some of Branstad’s proposals, like having teachers form teams to interview applicants for teaching positions within their school, but she’s concerned there’s no price tag yet for the entire reform package. Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, sits on the committee that drafts the education budget, and that’s a concern for her, too.
“I think that it is very important that we know the price,” Winckler said. “…You can’t make good decisions without good information and the price is the part of the data that you need in order to make good decisions. To wait and let us see that after the fact is really unfortunate.”
Branstad is also calling for a four-tier system for teachers starting at the “apprentice” level, followed by the “career teacher” level, a “mentor” level and — finally — a “master teacher” level. Representative Winckler said Iowa policymakers have made these kinds of attempts before.
“A lot of this is, I think, repackaging of plans that we’ve seen before,” Winckler said.
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City who taught school for 33 years, said she’s seen a lot of reform ideas come and go.
“What’s always stopped us cold is the fact that the funding wasn’t sustainable,” Mascher said. “And as a result of that you saw a lot of people investing a lot of time and energy into something that really and truly didn’t result in what we had hoped because the money wasn’t there.”
The leader of the state teacher’s union issued a written statement. Iowa State Education Association president Chris Bern said the governor’s “blueprint” has a lot of ideas, but is “still short on details.” Bern said teachers hope their “voices are heard” and their “everyday life experiences in the classrooms are taken into account as decisions about Iowa’s students are made.”