Members of the Iowa Learning Council discuss their proposal for education reform.

Members of the Iowa Learning Council discuss their proposal for education reform.

A group of 18 students from across the state released their recommendations Thursday on how to improve the state’s education system.

The Iowa Learning Council began its work one year ago, holding many of its meetings online. Lillian Nellans, a senior at Des Moines Roosevelt, talked about the goal of the report.

“Iowa used to be a national leader in education policy and we students think it’s time that we reclaim that role,” Nellans says.

“We really recommend…that we look to move the power back to the classroom in personalizing education for Iowa students. Focusing most of sections on the three T’s — teachers, testing and technology.”

Jack Hostager, a sophomore at Dubuque Hempstead, talked more about the recommendations. “We believe that the solution to this problem lies in six basic ideas: enhancing teacher quality; revolutionizing assessment; individualizing and adapting the curriculum; fostering meaningful teacher/student interactions; improving STEM for all; expanding online classes and career exploration in high school,” Hostager says.

The Iowa Learning Council is one of many groups that have given their input as the state looks to revitalize the education system. The students were asked which of the six ideas they would most like to see move forward as their plan comes under scrutiny from lawmakers.

“I think definitely teacher quality is an issue that we think is very key to improving education. As we say in our brief, improving education starts with those that facilitate it,” Hostager answered. “…That’s what seems to be the focus over at the capitol and we’re glad to see that. And we’re glad to see that, but we really help that through this process we continue to focus on improving teachers and supporting teachers so that we continue to have a world-class teaching force.”

Nellans says revolutionizing the assessment process for educators is a key part of improving teacher quality. “To look at growth, look at test scores, look peer evaluations, student evaluations, leadership evaluations, that show where these teachers are so that the schools in the state can help those teachers get better by introducing more collaborative programs,” Nellans says.

“We’re not looking to punish teachers, but to make all teachers excellent teachers.” Whitney Lemming-Salisbury, a freshman at Drake University, says they discussed the differences in school size at the very start and carried that through in their discussions about change.

“That’s what I loved about these meetings is that they were just the right amount of time, that everybody got to share how it would impact their school or how their school would be able to facilitate it. It made everything so much more real and made it seem rational and it made it seem like everything could be facilitated in every school,” Lemming-Salisbury says.

Nellans says a lot of the recommendations are focused on statewide uniform policies. “For example, we talk a lot about expanding the on-line education classes because we had members in the group from the rural schools. They are like ‘we get to take the same classes as these big urban schools because of this on-line opportunity’,” according to Nellans.

Lemming-Salisbury wanted to be sure lawmakers and others understand the work was put into the recommendations. “It’s understandable with media attention and also with the facilitation of the Department Education Department that there’s going to be a lot of assumptions that this is more of a public stunt by higher administration to make it seem like they are listening to the student voice, or you know seem like they are reaching out,” she says. “But we applied here, we won’t to be here. We are here to make a change, or at least propose changes.”

The full recommendations are available on the Iowa Department of Education’s website at:

The other students on the Iowa Learning Council and their schools: Hannah Richey, freshman Shenandoah; EmmaKate Wichman, ,freshman, Pleasant Valley; Grant Gordon sophomore, Van Meter; Apple Jackson Amos, junior, East Des Moines High School; Sophia Babcock junior, PCM High School in Monroe; Geoffrey Bruder junior, Humboldt; Mohad Awan, senior Waukee; Tom Bowman, senior Dowling Catholic West Des Moines; Tessa Horn, senior Manson Northwest Webster; Mckenzie Baker, senior Forest City; Maddie Akers Walnut Creek West Des Moines; Monica Figueroa, freshman, Buena Vista College; Sara Gabriele, freshman, Dartmouth College; Andrew Patience, freshman Iowa State.