By Mason City Globe Gazette
We have frequently extolled the importance of education, for the benefit of our children individually as they mature into adults, and for the future of our economy in particular and society in general.
Aside from parents and the students themselves, the group that plays the most important role in education is the teachers, and getting the best people involved in that profession is key to the success of our schools. Attention being paid to the profession now in Iowa could help us maintain that critical resource.
Gov. Terry Branstad has made education reform a priority since he returned to the Statehouse. This year he has promised to concentrate on teachers.
A Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation was created by the Legislature last spring. The group, which included teachers and school administrators, released its report Thursday with 13 recommendations, including calling for increased starting pay, stipends for teachers who work in underserved but vital areas such as science and math, and creating a five-tier classification system from new teachers to seasoned masters with pay increases and increased mentoring duties along the steps.
The Iowa State Education Association, which represents teachers, had members on the 25-member task force, and has given tentative approval to the plan.
Jason Glass, the director of the Iowa Department of Education who Branstad recruited to help him with his education reform efforts, said the task force’s proposal is aimed at retaining effective veteran teachers while making the profession more appealing to the state’s “best and brightest.”
“The top-performing education systems across the world share components of this plan,” Glass said. “We’ve taken those ideas and weaved them together.”
One stickler: If you are going to pay teachers more, then it’s going to cost more. That’s the kind of math concept that any first-grader should be able to comprehend.
“To reach the goals of what we’re trying to accomplish, it will take investment,” Glass said. “New dollars are necessary; we can’t just repurpose existing funds.”
Kent Mick, a Corwith-Wesley High School teacher who was on the task force, said members of the task force agreed that this couldn’t just be a mandate “and then having the state say, `but we’re not giving you any dollars with it.’ “
Mary Jane Cobb, the executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, said, “We have come up with new systems giving teachers, the true experts in the field, a stronger voice in the direction of their classrooms and their schools.
“Now it’s the governor and the Legislature’s job to fund the programs they have asked us to create and help move these recommendations forward.”
Fortunately, the state received some other good news this past week. The state Revenue Estimating Conference projects that Iowa’s strong economy will pump almost half a billion dollars more than previously expected into state coffers over the next two fiscal years.
That doesn’t mean we should start on a spending spree, but it does give the state the opportunity to invest in areas that offer the promise of a good return.
One of those areas is our schools and teachers. The teacher task force recommendations provide a good starting point for efforts to revitalize the profession. An investment in them is an investment in our kids. And that’s something we should all be able to get behind.