Iowa State University president Gregory Geoffrey says the guarantee of relatively low teaching salaries often discourages students from entering the profession — and he’s disappointed the governor has tabled a proposal to revamp and hike teacher salaries.  

“You look at the compensation differences not only at the beginning, but over a lifetime — they’re huge.  Engineering bachelor’s graduates now start at at least $60,000 a year and you know what the compensation is for entering teachers,” Geoffrey says, “and that makes a big difference in attracting the best and the brightest young people into professions.”

Governor Branstad in October proposed an “education blue print” that called for setting up a four-tiered teacher pay system, with so-called “master teachers” rising to the top pay grade, but Branstad has tabled that portion of the plan.

“I liked very much that proposal that Governor Branstad brought forward and I wish there were a way to move aggressively with it,” Geoffrey says. “I think it’s on hold because of budgetary constraints and issues dealing with teachers’ unions.”

Geoffrey says his personal opinion is that the state “should press aggressively” to raise the salaries for beginning teachers.  He’s less enthusiastic about the proposal to require an exit exam for seniors graduating with a teaching degree.

“I mean, first of all, how are you going to construct one? You know, you’re producing chemistry teachers, physics teachers, social science teachers, economics teachers, elementary ed — you can’t really construct a single exit exam that will determine how well all those students will do as teachers,” Geoffrey says. “I think far more important is to enhance the practical experience of teachers.”

That means more time spent “student teaching” in a classroom with a mentor teacher, as Geoffrey says that, ultimately, leads to producing a better teacher.  The governor’s education “blue print” also suggests new entrance standards for students who want to become teachers. Iowa State already requires a 2.5 grade point average for entrance into its teaching program, and Geoffrey says raising that to a 3.0 point grade average in high school seems “reasonable” but it may keep some minority students out of ISU’s College of Education.

“My recommendation would be to go ahead and set the bar at 3.0,” Geoffrey says, “but have some flexibility so that maybe each institution could have, maybe, 10 percent of students fall below that bar, but only admitted after a careful review of their dossiers and interviewing to see if they have other skill sets — motivation, etc. — to make them a great teacher.”

Geoffrey warns that setting a “rigid cut off” will deny entry to some students who would be exceptional teachers.

Geoffrey is retiring as Iowa State’s president in the middle of January. He plans to teach classes on campus, including a course in beginning chemistry.

He made his comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.