Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds’s Iowa Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium Remarks
As prepared for delivery:
Lt. Governor Reynolds:
Good morning. It’s an honor to be here with all of you at the Iowa Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium at Drake University. Thank you, President Maxwell, for that gracious welcome and for making it possible for us to gather in beautiful Sheslow Auditorium in historic Old Main.
I also want to thank all the other sponsors who helped make today possible. We could not hold this important event without your generous support.
Thank you, too, to everyone here today for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend the symposium, and to our outstanding speakers and panel participants. We are looking forward to hearing from you.
This is a great opportunity to discuss how Iowa can take a critical next step in giving our children a world-class education.
The question before us is how to create new, formal leadership roles for teachers to better use their talents to raise student achievement.
Principals alone cannot reasonably be expected to provide all the instructional leadership needed inside every school building to help ALL students succeed.
Top teachers and principals, working together, CAN provide that leadership.
Iowa students must finish high school prepared for college or a career with complex skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving.
Otherwise, their future may be limited to a series of low-wage jobs where they are likely to be stuck without the opportunity to pursue their dreams. This just isn’t good enough.
Let’s act with sense of urgency because, while difficult to admit, other states are simply out-educating Iowa.
We can see that by looking at national tests, which show Iowa slipping from a top performer in math and reading two decades ago to the middle of the rankings.
A new report shows that Iowa students had the lowest rate of test score gains of any state in the nation over those two decades. How did we let this happen?
Meanwhile, other countries are beating the United States on international exams.
Where does this leave Iowa?
Our students can’t afford to be out-educated.
Parents know that.
They want their children to be among the best educated in the world so they can pursue great career opportunities.
Employers know that.
They want our schools to turn out talented young people who know how to think analytically and communicate effectively, as well as have expertise in their fields.
As co-chair of the Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, Advisory Council, I visit companies all across the state.
Employers routinely tell me they have a tough time finding applicants with the right skills for the STEM jobs of today, let alone the STEM jobs of tomorrow.
This is the case for many companies and industries, from agribusiness to advanced manufacturing to the financial sector.
Good jobs remain unfilled despite all the Iowans who are out of work.
Iowa should be able to brag about our world-class schools and world-class workforce.
It is my hope, that the approaches we will discuss today will be a step toward developing teacher leadership models that help Iowa reclaim its place as the best state in the nation in which to educate our children. I look forward to the dialogue.
Now, it is my pleasure to introduce a man who has made it his personal mission to ensure our children have a world-class education.
I am proud he has asked me to be his partner in these endeavors and I promise you we will never back away from our goal of giving Iowa children the very best education in the world.
Please rise and join me in welcoming to the podium, Governor Terry Branstad.
Thank you, Lt. Governor Reynolds.
I also want to express my deep appreciation to everyone here today for your commitment to giving Iowa students a world-class education.
We face this challenge together because Iowa’s young people are counting on us.
Many other states and nations are working hard to boost academic achievement and narrow the gap between high and low performers. They understand that all students must be ready to compete in the global workforce.
They also know that great teaching is the game-changer.
That’s why strengthening teacher AND principal leadership to support great teaching everywhere is a critical next step for education in Iowa. This will require more professional collaboration and creating new career pathways for teachers.
Iowa has many excellent teachers, who pour their hearts into giving children the best education possible. I know this from visiting schools across the state and recently I was in Carlisle to learn about their new summer reading program.
But, I also know it personally, because my daughter Allison is a third-grade teacher in Waukee. And Lt. Governor Reynolds’ daughter Jessica teaches the first grade here in Iowa.
What we LACK is a SYSTEM that assures great teaching occurs in EVERY classroom.
When Lt. Governor Reynolds called for acting with a sense of urgency, she was not exaggerating.
The world’s top-performing school systems assume their young people will master basic skills EARLY, so they can move ahead to learn more complex skills needed for success in a knowledge-based economy.
In Iowa, many children don’t master even basic skills. About 23 percent of third-graders did not read proficiently on the most recent state tests.
Even more alarming, a third of eighth-graders did not read proficiently last school year. That compares to 25 percent the year before. We are going in the wrong direction.
What happened? Newly designed Iowa Assessments that reflect the Iowa Core probably are a factor in more eighth-graders not reading proficiently. Higher academic standards have raised the bar.
The single most important thing we can do to boost achievement and meet those higher standards is better prepare future teachers and better support teachers already in the classroom.
This morning, I will focus on teachers already in the classroom.
We are running our schools much like we did in the last century.
Principals have so many demands on their time that it’s difficult to be instructional leaders.
Teachers still work largely in isolation.
Although collaboration among teachers is more common than it used to be, it’s still too limited, and that limits the ability of colleagues to share their expertise with one another. I am convinced this has a negative impact on classroom learning.
More collaboration is absolutely essential to do all the work that must be done inside Iowa’s 1,400-plus school buildings.
That work includes setting academic goals, analyzing achievement data, and improving instructional strategies to better meet students’ needs.
But this is not just about managing the workload.
It’s about having more respect for teachers.
Teachers should be honored, supported and rewarded for their invaluable work.
What sorts of teacher leadership roles are we talking about?
Our October 2011 education blueprint included a teacher leadership and compensation structure with apprentice, career, mentor and master teachers.
When we took the blueprint to town hall meetings across Iowa, good questions were raised about how this could work.
That is why we are holding this symposium today.
And that’s why the state launched a Taskforce on Teacher Leadership and Compensation. I am eager to see their recommendations.
I am also looking forward to today’s presentations.
We know that strengthening teacher leadership to better support teachers in the classroom CAN raise student achievement.
This is NOT about narrowing the curriculum to improve standardized test scores. It MUST be about rigorously preparing all students – not just some students – to prosper in the 21st century.
There is another benefit.
The opportunity to pursue new career paths will make teaching a more attractive profession.
Not every top teacher will be interested in a teacher leadership role – some will choose to stay in the classroom – but they should have the option.
Many teachers are eager for change.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association – who, by the way, was born in Le Mars, grew up in Manson and taught in Muscatine – last year called for creating a profession with career choices as part of a bold reform plan to meet the needs 21st century students.
Here is part of what he said:
“Currently, our education system acts as if a teacher is a teacher is a teacher. But teachers are not all the same; they have different interests, knowledge, skills, weaknesses, and strengths. They need more than a one-size-fits-all career.”
He went on to say this:
“To promote and nurture effective teaching, the profession should offer quality training, well-designed career paths, time to work together on the best ways to help students, quality evaluations that help teachers in their development, professional development based on identified needs, and fair accountability processes…”
Iowa should move in this direction as quickly as possible, with teachers and principals leading the way.
Let’s not fear accountability that helps less effective teachers become more effective. Student academic progress based on many factors should drive teacher and principal evaluations.
Let’s rethink compensation, so it’s aligned with strategic objectives. Raising base pay will attract more top students to teaching. It makes sense to reward teachers who work a longer school year, or teachers of hard-to-fill subjects, or those who teach in our most challenging schools.
Finally, let’s stop underestimating what teachers can accomplish. There’s a tendency to point to problems outside schools to excuse poor student academic performance. Those problems are real.
Yet it’s as if some people don’t realize how much influence teachers CAN have and the difference they CAN make in how much students learn – especially if the system supports their work.
Let’s work together to make sure each student has a great teacher in every classroom, in every grade, every year, and that every school building has a great principal.