State lawmakers continued to question Department of Education director Jason Glass Wednesday on the various parts of the Governor’s education reform bill. The bill changes the way teachers are let go if there are layoffs, how long new teachers should be on probation, and the recourse a teacher has if he or she is fired.
Glass says it would make performance the first consideration in layoffs instead of seniority. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City and a retired teacher, told Glass schools are already considering how good a teacher is when they make layoff plans.
“Why are we putting it in statute and deciding if for them,” Steckman asked. “Because performance matters,” Glass replied. “But then you’re taking away the right of the district and the bargaining unit to bargain that,” Steckman answered. “That’s correct, the state would be saying that we’re making a policy decision,” Glass said.
Some lawmakers say if a teacher’s evaluation is going to play major role, they want to feel more comfortable with how those evaluations happen. Improving evaluations is part of the governor’s reform plan, but details aren’t yet worked out.
Representative Jeremy Taylor, a Republican from Sioux City, said that makes him nervous. “So we’re voting on something we haven’t seen which will be a primary determiner?,” Taylor asked. There were also questions about the governor’s plan to keep new teachers on probation for five years instead of three.
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City who is also a classroom teacher, thinks that’s being too harsh on the newbies.
“You’re saying if you can’t perform you’re out. I’m saying give teachers the time to develop those skills,” Mascher explained. Glass defended another part of the bill that makes it easier to dismiss poor teachers after years on the job.
“We do have ineffective educators in our schools, this is no secret,” Glass said. “And keeping an ineffective educator working in our schools is something no one can reasonably defend.” Glass explained that under the governor’s bill, the process of firing a teacher would be speeded up, and teachers could no longer to go to court to appeal.
Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport said that the governor and Glass use other states as examples for Iowa to follow, but Iowa is ahead of them. Representative Greg Forristal, a Republican from Macedonia, lost his patience with critics of the bill. “It sounds to me that there are a lot of people who don’t want to make any changes at all, who resist all change,” Forristal said.
The discussion continued later on the plan to hold back third graders who can’t read. Director Glass says schools would get new money to intervene early with kids struggling to read. Representative Taylor asked if a student still can’t read after repeating third grade, would they have to repeat it again, or be passed on.
“This statue only allows for retention using this policy for one year,” Glass replied. He says the governor’s plan puts more responsibility on parents to intervene when a student is struggling with reading. That statement earned applause from one lawmaker who says he’s tired of all the blame going on teachers.
The subcommittee finished going through the entire 156-page bill and it will now go to the full education committee for more discussion.