Ideas for education reform short on details

Task forces say local control on issues is key

April 1, 2014 | 2:02 am

The members of the state’s Instructional Time Task Force didn’t agree on everything, but their newly released recommendations share one thread: a commitment to local control.

The Iowa Department of Education released the group’s report, as well as those from the Administrator Evaluation and Teaching Standards and Teacher Evaluation task forces, on Monday. The three units were formed as a result of Iowa Senate legislation on education reform.

All three documents call for substantive changes to current systems, yet the recommendations largely stop short of specifying the details, instead focusing on outlining new processes to shift the status quo.

“I hope that legislators seriously consider this document,” said instructional time task force lead Mike Cormack, policy liaison for the education department.

Hours, not days

The call to measure the school year in 1,080 hours of class time, as opposed to the current 180 instructional days, is the only specific mandate in that group’s report. The decision of how to spread those hours across the calendar would be left up to individual districts.

The text also encourages administrators to explore offering innovative calendars and asking legislators to provide financial support for districts that implement those alternative schedules, but it does not call for hard requirements.

In August, Cormack said he hoped the task force would reach a central viewpoint on whether the state needs to set a universal school start date, a long-standing headache for educators and tourism advocates. The final recommendation does not include universal agreement on that issue, though members wrote that Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature should move on the issue in 2013.

“There was agreement that the current law, as written, is unworkable,” Cormack said.

Other reports

The Teaching Standards and Teacher Evaluation Task Force is recommending the creation of a group to develop new standards and a new teacher evaluation system, with a research-based rubric, training and professional development. In addition, the panel is pushing to make education and training more aligned with the demands of PK-12 teaching.

The Administrator Evaluation group favors a research-based rubric as well, to gauge administrator effectiveness while boosting administrator, school and district growth. The task force also advocates ongoing training to allow administrators to evaluate and coach, as well as mandating the creation of professional learning communities and additional mentorship.

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