School Reform News Bulletin: Can Bold Iowa Reform Plans Get Unstuck?

Hard to believe it was five months ago I asked the question: Is major education reform about ready to give Iowa a try? At the heart of the story is a local connection. Jason Glass, appointed the state’s education chief a little more than a year ago by incoming Governor Terry Branstad, has some notable Colorado roots.

Branstad and Glass forwarded a fairly bold plan for the Hawkeye State. Ideas included significant changes to teacher preparation, pay and retention; focusing on literacy through cutting back on social promotion; school accountability enhancements; and more flexibility and student opportunity through charters, online programs and other public education options.

Of course, the state’s top executive certainly can’t — nor should he be able to — update laws by fiat. Still, Gov. Branstad’s plan has faced a particularly difficult time since being launched in the Iowa legislature in February. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow provides some of the detail in a new story for School Reform News:

State lawmakers have whittled down the Republican’s proposals to raise teacher quality and academic standards, expand charter schools, and require third graders to read before moving ahead.

“We have the values right in the governor’s proposal,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass. “We can’t compromise to the point where the changes aren’t meaningful.”

Being challenged by some lawmakers to water down their bold proposals more than they might be comfortable with, it looks like the governor’s team faces an uphill battle. In addition to the areas mentioned above, Iowa’s Senate Democrats have lashed back with a proposal that would essentially end the right of families to choose a full-time online public education. For shame.

How successful will the 2012 Iowa reform efforts be? How much of Branstad’s original plan can get unstuck? At this point it’s difficult to say. I am pretty focused on what’s going on here in Colorado, but I’ll have to take a peek or two more at the distant cornfields before the spring months fade and the story is told. Of course, as the Coloradan-turned-Iowa-education-chief explained in School Reform News, “This is just the beginning of a multi-year effort to put Iowa on par with some of the best systems in the world.”

Here’s wishing them well, and that maybe someday soon the leading debate there will be over broadly expanding school choice options.