DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said the state must continue its push toward uniform educational standards, such as the Common Core, if Iowa wants to regain its status as a state with one of the top public school systems in the country.
“Smarter Balanced is the direction we’re looking at going,” Branstad told the Iowa State Board of Education Thursday afternoon. “We being the last state to adopt state standards, that is one of the reasons we fell behind.”
It was the governor’s first formal meeting with the board since he signed the 2013 education reform package into law. That reform package will change the way many teachers are paid, promoted and evaluated. It also lessened state oversight of homeschool families and locked in base state aid increases for the next two years.
Smarter Balanced is a test being developed by a consortium of states for a full rollout in 2014-15. Iowa took a larger role in the consortium under former Department of Education Director Jason Glass, but some, including state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, have questioned the move toward adopting the test because it’s not fully developed yet.
Branstad would likely face opposition from members of his party, too, if he makes the Common Core or similar uniform standards a priority of his administration because of Iowa’s history of local control.
“It’s more than that,” said Shane Vander Hart, a Christian blogger who frequently writes about education issues at his site, Caffeinated Thoughts. “There’s a debate to be had about how rigorous the standards are.”
He thinks school standards should be set at the local level, and, absent that, the state level and approved by the Legislature, “not some unelected board that is not responsive to the parents.”
Branstad said the state needs to have state standards that are aligned with the curriculum being taught in schools. He said school districts can have flexibility in their curriculum as long as they meet the state standards.
Still, he acknowledged, setting a statewide measure could be a tough political fight given the local control tradition.
“Well, yeah, but that’s the reason why we’ve gotten an ‘F’ for years for having no state standards,” he said. “We’re committed to going back to the top. How are we going to get to the top? We’re going to have to have some clear, understandable standards, and we need to make sure these are high academic standards.”