By Mark Jacobs
Every child, regardless of Zip code, deserves a quality public school education. Unfortunately, for our state’s children growing up in low-income neighborhoods, far too often this is not the case. On average, children in low-income neighborhoods are 2 to 2 1/2 grade levels behind their peers in higher income areas by the time they get to eighth grade.
For our children and for our long-term prosperity in Iowa, we must do more. Children who grow up in economically disadvantaged households face daunting challenges. We should actively embrace proven resources that can help address the education inequity. So it stands to reason that we should be doing everything possible to attract and keep the best teachers in Iowa’s classrooms.
That’s why our current situation is ironic. Iowa has one of the most stringent alternative certification requirements for teachers in the nation. Consequently, a significant portion of our homegrown talent that has an interest in education can’t get a license to teach in Iowa. Instead of staying home and serving Iowa, they have to leave to teach in classrooms elsewhere. Moreover, it’s very difficult for our local communities to build partnerships with innovative organizations like Teach for America, Troops for Teachers, and The New Teacher Project.
Hannah Olson is just one example of a teacher that Iowa children are missing out on. Hannah grew up in Burlington and graduated in the top 5 percent of her class from the University of Iowa. She joined Teach for America and taught in the Mississippi Delta for two years. Hannah’s students showed dramatic proficiency gains in geometry.
Hannah completed a two-year program to earn a teaching license in Arkansas and is enrolled in a masters program to gain full certification in New York. Today, she teaches eighth-grade math in Brooklyn, N.Y., for Achievement First, a high performing network of non-profit, K-12, college preparatory charter schools. Achievement First has a mission of closing the achievement gap for all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Hannah would like to return home and teach, but sadly she faces a steep uphill climb to get a teaching license in her home state of Iowa.
What a shame — we sure could use her here.
We must open more pathways to becoming a teacher in Iowa, not erect more barriers to keep talented teachers out of our classrooms. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
The education reform bill passed by the Iowa Senate (SF423) has a provision that would require any future changes to the alternative certification process to return to the Legislature for approval. If passed, this provision would subject teacher certifications to the political whims of the Legislature and special interest groups could impact them. The result?
It would be next to impossible for us to keep great teachers like Hannah Olson in Iowa and for our local school districts to have the option to partner with organizations like Teach for America.
It is a travesty that some of our state’s leaders are working to make it even more challenging for diverse, outstanding educators to reach our children who are the most in need. Our children will pay the price while we continue to miss out on great teachers and let our next generation of the best and brightest go to other states.
Mark Jacobs of West Des Moines founded non-profit Reaching Higher Iowa (reachinghigheriowa.org) to advocate for improved public education in Iowa. For six years, he was a board member and served a term as board chair of KIPP Houston (Texas) Public Schools, which serves over 9,500 economically disadvantaged students. The former CEO of Reliant Energy in Texas and financial adviser is currently teaching a business strategy class to seniors at Iowa State University. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.