By Patricia Levesque
I commend Iowa Gov. Branstad, Lieutenant Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Education Secretary Jason Glass for having honest conversations with Iowans about the need to better recognize, retain and reward the state’s best teachers.
A great teacher can have a tremendous impact on a student’s performance. While all of us would prefer every student had engaged parents supporting them at home, we know our children are capable of learning if provided the opportunity to do so.
There are thousands of dedicated, hardworking professionals within the ranks of Iowa’s teachers. What is not in place is a structure to better empower schools to recognize, reward, and expand the reach of their most-talented educators. That must change.
We’ve seen the results in Florida, whose 4th-graders ranked second in the country on gains in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 1992 and 2011. Improvements began with bold reforms, starting with the A-F school grading system, in which school recognition dollars awarded can go to teacher bonuses tied to each school’s grade.
Another poorly kept secret: The only means for a teacher to make significant financial gains is to wait until he or she gets two decades older on the antiquated longevity scale or becomes an administrator. Unfortunately, many of our outstanding teachers will not wait, and administrators must spend at least part of their time running their building. Our best teachers must spend time with students in classrooms.
As a conservative Republican and the head of an organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, I do not take the idea of spending increases lightly. But I do support additional dollars when they are tied to meaningful changes.
Neither research nor common sense support the idea that putting additional resources into an outdated system will result in student gains. But market-based principles allow employers (i.e. schools) to pay more for top talent in positions of high demand, and base employees’ responsibilities on their talents. Effective teachers create better prepared students, resulting in a stronger Iowa economy
The governor’s proposal does have room for improvement. Evaluations should be explicitly tied to student learning — an outcome — instead of learning merely being one piece of a largely subjective framework. Student learning should also be the driving factor informing the process of who is selected for teacher leadership roles (and the salary raises tied to those roles).
The current proposal is a great start. By recognizing and rewarding its educators, Iowa can help local districts build and retain their talent bench, to the benefit of students.
Patricia Levesque is CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org