Education Transformation FAQ's

October 11, 2011

On Oct. 3, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled their blueprint for giving all Iowa children a world-class education. This fall, they will hold town hall meetings to seek Iowans’ feedback on how to improve the blueprint. They will issue final recommendations, with a price tag, before the 2012 Legislature convenes.

Below are some questions Iowans have asked about the blueprint. To read the entire blueprint, to comment on the proposal or to see the schedule of upcoming town hall meetings, please go to: <a href=””></a>.

It’s worth noting that Iowans are not questioning the need to transform education. Iowans understand that our schools have slipped in national rankings in reading and math, and that our children must be able to compete in an increasingly demanding global economy. It will take Iowans working together to make the necessary changes.

Question: <strong>How much will the blueprint cost?</strong>

Answer: No price tag is attached yet. When Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds release final recommendations before the start of the 2012 Legislature, the cost will be included. For now, they want to hear from Iowans about the right vision for our state.

Question: <strong>Master teachers would teach just 50 percent of the time and coach/evaluate/plan the other 50 percent. Why take the best teachers out of the classroom half the time? </strong>

Answer: By working outside their own classroom half-time, master teachers will improve the education of many more students. Master teachers will help other teachers improve instructional practices and pinpoint strategies for students struggling to learn. They likely will be co-teaching in other classrooms at various times.

It’s also important to realize master teachers will <em>not</em> be the only outstanding teachers in a school. Mentor teachers, many career teachers and some apprentice teachers also will be outstanding. Not all, however, will want to be master teachers – whose job description includes working a much longer school year, as well as setting achievement goals and collaborating on how to reach them.

Question: <strong>Is it fair that not all teachers can be master teachers</strong>?

Answer: About 5 percent of teachers would be master teachers, according to the blueprint. Approximately 15 to 20 percent would be mentor teachers, about 60 percent would be career teachers and about 20 percent would be apprentice teachers. This four-tiered system will build far greater support for teachers to do their jobs well. Teachers will work together more often to improve their practice rather than teaching largely in isolation.

All teachers can’t be master teachers, nor will that job appeal to everyone. Career teachers, however, would be able to earn additional income in numerous ways, including taking on additional academic responsibilities, teaching hard-to-fill subjects, such as math and science, or earning certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Question: <strong>How much will teacher pay be raised in the four-tier system?</strong>

Answer: No specific salary levels are listed in the blueprint, but the intention is to substantially boost the state minimum beginning teacher salary beyond the current $28,000 a year to attract more top talent. Increases for career, mentor and master teachers would be a percentage of apprentice teacher pay. Each district will set apprentice pay locally. Districts also will decide annual cost-of-living adjustments.

All newly-minted teachers will be part of the four-tier system. Current teachers will choose whether to be paid under the four-tier system that rewards performance, or stay in the existing system, based on years of experience and education credentials.

Question: <strong>How do the four tiers differ from the current schedule for paying teachers, which is based on years of experience and education credentials?</strong> Answer: Besides providing more professional support for teachers and paying higher        salaries in the early years of teaching, the four-tiered system sets higher expectations for teachers based on a more sophisticated definition of performance.

It does this by strengthening the evaluation system for teachers. Currently, most teachers receive satisfactory evaluations, though they are not equally good at their jobs.

The new approach will focus more on differentiating effective from ineffective teaching. It will focus on counting student academic progress, though how much has yet to be determined. Under the new system, evaluations will be based on multiple observations throughout the year by master teachers and principals. Now, teacher evaluations are sometimes infrequent and superficial.

Evaluations and professional development will be strengthened for all teachers, whether they are part of the four-tier system or the existing salary schedule. The difference will be how they are paid.

Question: <strong>How is it reasonable to rate teachers based on student academic progress at schools where attendance is poor?</strong>

Answer: It’s critical that all parents make sure their children understand the value of education and get them to school on time every day. Some schools have a bigger challenge with attendance than others, and that will have to be factored into how school progress is measured. At the same time, research shows some teachers routinely make more academic progress with students year after year than other teachers. This can’t be ignored.

Question: <strong>Isn’t retaining third-graders who can’t read mean-spirited</strong>?

Answer: In the early grades, students learn to read. But from fourth grade on, they read to learn. It is crucial that third-graders finish that school year reading at a basic level, or better, so they can do well in math, science and other subjects.

Iowa’s proposed third-grade literacy plan is based on Florida’s highly successful program. In 2002, when Florida launched the program, its fourth-graders scored 214 in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2009, they scored 226, compared to the 221 that Iowa fourth-graders scored. Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders scored 223, higher than fourth-graders in 31 states.

As Florida has done, Iowa would strengthen literacy instruction from early childhood on to avoid the need to hold children back at the end of third grade. If retention is necessary, however, children would have the opportunity to attend summer school after third grade, in an effort to start fourth grade on time. Children who still need to repeat third grade would receive a new, more intensive reading program from highly-qualified teachers. No one would be held back in third grade more than once.

It may seem mean-spirited to end social promotion if children aren’t reading, but not if you consider the repercussions of being illiterate for the rest of their lives.

It also will be critical to strengthen literacy instruction in upper elementary grades and in middle school so students continue to gain ground.

Question: <strong>Will Iowa’s school year be longer than the current 180 instructional days</strong>?

Answer: The blueprint does not establish a longer school year for all students. It does, however, ask teachers to work additional days: Five days each for apprentice and career teachers, 10 days for mentor teachers and 20 days for master teachers. Those days could be used to offer more instruction to students needing extra help to catch up, depending on local needs. Given the interest expressed so far in a longer school year for all students, we will take a look at that possibility.

Question: <strong>What about top students? Will the blueprint improve their education?</strong>

Answer: The blueprint calls for higher academic expectations for all students, including those who are the most advanced. This includes promoting competency-based learning. For example, if students can test out of geometry, they should be allowed to receive credit and move on to other math courses. That will make it possible to take college-level courses sooner while still in high school.

Question: <strong>How will the blueprint help students needing special-education services?</strong>

Answer: Getting a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every building will better serve all students, including children receiving special education services. Presently, Iowa has many first-rate teachers and school administrators, but we need all educators to fit that description.

Question: <strong>Why does the blueprint put so many new tests in place? </strong>

Answer: The blueprint adds only one new test, the Program for International Student Assessment. A representative sample of ninth graders would take that test every three years to see how Iowa stacks up against top school systems globally.

Otherwise, the proposed tests, for the most part, would replace tests already given.

A new kindergarten assessment would replace the kindergarten tests already used in some districts. Students in grades three through eight would still take an annual standardized test, but instead of paper and pencil, the goal is for the tests to be computer-based. Students who answer correctly then respond to progressively harder questions. These tests would reflect the Iowa Core/Common Core standards.

In addition to this annual standardized test, teachers need access to better information from tests given throughout the school year to pinpoint what students need help learning. These so-called formative tests would be aligned with the Iowa Core/Common Core standards.

All high school juniors would take a college entrance exam to measure college and career readiness and to give them one of the keys to four-year higher education. The state would pay for the exam. Sixty-one percent of Iowa students already take the ACT.

High school students would be required to pass end-of-course exams in certain subjects, such as English language arts, biology, algebra and U.S. history or government, in order to graduate. These measurements would set clear expectations for the solid foundation of knowledge and skills all students need to be successful.

High school teachers already typically require students to take exams, but the end-of-course tests would be the same in all high schools. That will assure more consistency statewide.

Students who fail end-of-course exams would receive intensive remedial help and would have multiple opportunities to retake the exams.

We’d like teachers to help set state policy on what constitutes proficiency on the end-of-course exams, which together would serve as a high school exit exam.

We will answer more frequently-asked questions as we move ahead through the fall to improve the blueprint. Thank you for your commitment to Iowa’s good schools and to ensuring our children receive the world-class education they deserve.

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n  <em>Linda Fandel, special assistant for education in the Branstad-Reynolds Administration</em>

n  <em>Jason Glass, Iowa Department of Education director</em>