Archives for category: Iowa

Iowa has one of the best school systems in the nation, but legislators are working to pass a voucher program.

They very likely belong to ALEC, where they got their marching orders to destroy public education.

The bill advanced on a party line vote, with Democrats opposed. Every student who gets a voucher will take $5,000 away from the state’s public school. That amount will not be enough for a high quality private school.

In recent studies, done by scholars of different views, vouchers depress student achievement. Do Iowa legislators know that? Do they care?

The sponsor admitted that his plan would reduce funding for public schools:

“Yeah, it’s going to take a student away and that funding will go away (for public schools),” he said. “But that’s no different than a student leaving for any other reason. So schools have to deal with that all the time – declining enrollment or enrollment changing.”

Citizens of Iowa must rise up and say no. No to vouchers! No to additional “flexibility” to charter schools! No to budget cuts for public schools.

It is so rare to find a mainstream newspaper that supports public schools and opposes privatization, that it is worth paying attention when you see one. Our reader Chiara sent this one in. If you see one in your city or state, send it in. Iowa has long been renowned for its excellent public schools. Community support is a big part of that excellence. Thank you, Des Moines Register!

The editorial begins like this:

Let’s just call the “school choice” movement what it really is: an effort to funnel taxpayer dollars from public schools to vouchers, private schools and home schools. Supporters seem to believe Iowa children are being held hostage in collapsing government education institutions. 

“If there’s a public school that’s failing, we have a responsibility to those children that we give them the best opportunity possible,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa.

Actually, if schools are failing, the Iowa Legislature has a responsibility to help fix them, which includes adequately funding them. Despite the rhetoric of Chelgren and other school-choice advocates, Iowa parents have numerous choices in educating their children.

That is exactly right. When a school has low test scores, help it. Support the kids and the teachers. Don’t kill public education by betting on vouchers (a proven failure) and charters (privately run schools that typically do no better than the public schools they replace).




Dana Goldstein, one of the best education writers, now reports for the New York Times.

In this article, she describes the rush to expand vouchers for religious schools in Iowa.

You don’t have to look far to find funding by Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers.

“Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.

“Iowa is one of 31 states where legislators have proposed creating or expanding school choice programs this year, without Washington even lifting a finger. Even if just a few of the bills pass, the number of children attending private schools with public money could greatly increase, one reason the proposals are meeting resistance.

“There is a national discussion about this, and obviously Donald Trump has brought it up,” said State Representative Walt Rogers, chairman of the House Education Committee. He said a modest expansion in Iowa remained possible this year. “I tell people, ‘This discussion isn’t going away.’”

“A powerful force in the movement is Mr. Trump’s secretary of education, the philanthropist Betsy DeVos. She has spent decades arguing that public schools have a monopoly on education and fighting for tax dollars to be available for private tuition.

“Mary Kakayo and her daughter Alma, 9, who attends St. Theresa Catholic School in Des Moines. The state covers more than half of Alma’s $3,025 tuition. Credit Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times
The issue is so important to her that she has sought to insert it into almost every statement she has made in her new role — even when it was an awkward fit, such as when she described historically black colleges as being created by school choice, when in reality they were formed because black students had been barred from traditional colleges.

“As education secretary, Ms. DeVos has limited ability to carry out school choice nationwide, at least without action from Congress. But her previous investments as a philanthropist are paying dividends.

“In 2013 and 2014, the most recent years for which financial disclosures are available, several organizations associated with Ms. DeVos invested over $7 million in school choice lobbying efforts in states now considering new bills. Americans for Prosperity, the activist group founded by the Koch brothers, and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council are also pushing private school choice in statehouses across the country.

“The number of American students benefiting from private school choice programs now is relatively small. Estimates by EdChoice, the organization founded by Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist who first introduced the idea of vouchers, put the number at 446,000 this year, out of a total school-age population of 56 million. (Three million attend public charter schools, which Ms. DeVos also has championed and which generally do not accept vouchers.)

“Advocates say that expanding private school choice would allow parents to remove children from public schools that are not meeting their needs, and note that surveys show parents in existing programs have high satisfaction rates. Competition from private schools, they say, can help public schools improve.

“A lot of families want to have the choice,” Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa said at a rally in January. “We want to make sure all those choices are available, and are as affordable as possible.”

“Traditional school voucher programs, which exist in 15 states and the District of Columbia, allow the government to pay private schools, many of them religious, directly. Tax credit scholarships, like the one that helps pay tuition for Ms. Kakayo’s daughter, are a newer and growing form of school choice. They allow individuals and corporations to receive credit on their state income taxes for donations to nonprofits that provide tuition aid to students. Iowa’s program, currently used by 11,000 students, has income limits — $73,800 for a family of four — and the average scholarship award is only $1,583.

“Iowa is one of the states where legislators this year proposed education savings accounts, an even more expansive benefit. The accounts give parents state money each year — under one proposal, in the form of a $5,000 debit card — that they can use on private school tuition, home schooling costs, online education or tutoring.

“Ms. Kakayo said she would welcome further tuition support from the state, which would allow her to save money for college for Alma and her younger sister, Anna-Palma, who also attends St. Theresa. Under one proposal, after a student graduates from high school, any money left in the account could be used for tuition at in-state colleges. “It would be very, very helpful,” she said.

“Both sides of the debate over the proposals ran marketing campaigns. A television ad from the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, a group Ms. DeVos has financially supported, said that “education savings accounts give parents the right to choose a school that meets their child’s needs.” The ad cited smaller class sizes and individual teacher attention, but did not use the term “private school.”

“A competing social media campaign by an online group called Iowans for Public Education satirically compared the accounts to “park savings accounts” that would allow parents to spend tax dollars on country club fees instead of public playgrounds.

“Opponents have called the programs a giveaway to religious institutions. All but five of the 140 schools currently participating in the program are Catholic or Protestant, and the Diocese of Des Moines is among those lobbying for the expansion….

“It is unclear, however, how much public support exists for any expansion. A Des Moines Register poll of 802 Iowans in February found that 58 percent opposed using public funds to pay for private education, while 35 percent supported the idea.

“Both public and private school leaders extol the excellence of public schools in Iowa — it had the nation’s highest high school graduation rate in 2015 — and speak proudly of cooperation between the two sectors.”

So, the billionaires want vouchers to disrupt the nation’s most successful school system.

Iowa adopted the Common Core standards but renamed them the “Iowa Core.” They read just like the Common Core standards.


Teachers in K-3 are concerned about the developmental appropriateness of the literacy standards for young children.


The State Education Department has distributed a survey asking teachers what they think of the standards. A teacher in Iowa asked me to post the survey link. Please review the standards and express your views about them.


If you are a teacher in Iowa, be sure to take the survey and let the SED know.



Amy Moore teaches fifth grade in Newton, Iowa, and writes often for the Des Moines Register. In this article, she chastises Governor Terry Branstad for promising to make education his top priority, then spending his time in office refusing to fund the schools.


She writes that educators will tell the Legislature how much money the schools need and legislators will lecture teachers and administrators about how greedy they are and why they need to do more with less. She says about Governor Branstad, “If this is how he handles his top priority, then I’d like to beg him to put us lower on his list.”


The way I see it he has reached into our pockets to steal millions of dollars set aside for our children. He put locks on our school doors until a date that he — and his business partners who care only about squeezing every last cent of profit from Iowa families — deemed appropriate. He plans to mess with school monies to try to help agricultural businesses get off the hook for water they polluted. He allowed for a push to implement Smarter Balanced assessments, which will make huge money for testing companies coming from our state, and is being dropped by other states that have found it to be problematic to say the least. The only real school improvement plan he has focused on is his teacher leadership initiative, which sends the clear and incorrect message that teachers are the main problem with our schools.


Aren’t Republicans supposed to believe in less government intrusion? I’d like governor to stay true to his party and trust local districts to spend the allocated state money. Districts have a strong track record of knowing what is needed to serve our local communities, and the diversity of school populations across the state makes one-size-fits-all mandates nonsensical.
With talk of next year’s budget there is inevitably the constant assertion that “just throwing money at it won’t help.” I wonder if the millions of Americans purchasing Powerball tickets this week would agree with that?


I have to admit there are times when having extra money cannot help. For example, if you’re being attacked by a grizzly bear, I don’t believe throwing money at him will help. Or if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, no amount of money can take away the pain.


But when it comes to children, having more money can almost always improve lives. More money can mean more books to read in the home and better quality clothes. It can mean more available time from a parent who doesn’t have to work three jobs to make ends meet. It can mean superior health care, child care and healthier foods.


It is the same with children in a classroom. Money means smaller class sizes with more individualized instruction. It means updated materials and technology. It means well paid, high quality teachers who feel appreciated to be compensated for their professional skills. It means fully staffed art, counseling, music, preschool and health departments. It means safe and comfortable school environments. It means the ability to offer courses to reach the interests and abilities of more students. It means field trips, extracurricular clubs and non-dilapidated textbooks.


Amy insists that the Governor and the Legislature must appropriate the funding that the children of Iowa need and hold the lectures about austerity.

Scott McLeod, a blogger in Iowa, explains how politicians are following a script that details how to kill public education. Watch what they do. The same game plan is being repeated in other states.

McLeod knows that Iowa is not the worst-hit state, but it is being targeted for privatization.

Follow the steps. See if your state is suffering the same treatment at the hands of “reformers.”

He writes:

*underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)

*maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections

*reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)

*employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute

*ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget

*implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding

*give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state

*deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement

*frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure

*create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public

*pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools

*write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools

*create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives

*accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals, connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course

*hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas

*publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies

Across the nation, states are dropping out of the Common Core testing. Most have decided that the tests are too long, too expensive, and provide no more information than the tests they had before.


But Iowa, among the high-scoring states in the nation, has decided to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessment at the same time that others are backing out. The new tests will begin in the 2016-17 year.


The irony is that Iowa has long been one of the nation’s high-performing states even though it had no state standards or assessments.


But the state board of education has decided to follow everyone else, even as others are dropping out.


Iowa will not allow third graders to pass from third grade to fourth grade unless they can pass a standardized test. The pressure to read has moved down to kindergarten.

“Kindergartners at Hubbell Elementary School in Des Moines no longer have time set aside to play — or to take a nap. Recess, too, has been shortened to 30 minutes a day. Like many schools across Iowa, the state’s push for education reform has set higher expectations that are placing more pressure on teachers and students.

“Now, 5- and 6-year-olds are expected to know their letters and numbers before they start kindergarten. And by the spring, they are supposed to be able to add and subtract numbers up to 10 and read words such as “school” and “food.”

“We are the new first grade,” said Micaela Tuttle, a kindergarten teacher at Hubbell who’s taught for 10 years.

“This year’s kindergarten and first-graders are garnering special focus because of a key part of Iowa’s education reform law: third-grade retention.

“Starting in May 2017, students who are below grade level in reading by the spring of third grade will be required to repeat the grade.

“However, they may enroll in a summer reading program to progress to fourth grade.”

One in four third-graders are unlikely to pass the test.

Amy Moore has a simple proposal for the governor and legislature of Iowa: If you won’t fund our state’s public schools adequately, then let us have the freedom to teach.

Moore teaches fifth grade and writes frequently for the Des Moines Register. She taught second grade for many years. She wrote this article after Governor Terry Branstad vetoed a $56 million increase in school funding. The legislature had approved the increased funding to compensate for having earlier granted an increase of 1.25%, not enough to cover rising fixed costs.

Republicans in the legislature–and the governor–expect the schools to do more with less.

Moore writes:

What improvements can educators make without cost? She has some ideas.

“The first thing that would make a great impact is to bring back play-based curriculum in the early childhood grades. There is a recent, almost comical, “new” movement being highlighted by the media to restore play in kindergarten. I say comical because some of those touting its importance are acting as if early childhood educators haven’t been screaming for years that traditional academic materials and learning approaches are not appropriate for our youngest.
The thing that is not funny at all is the lost childhood many of our babies are suffering as they are pushed to do things earlier than they should and in ways that are detrimental to their development. One positive that has emerged is newer research is proving little ones have neurological connections that are made when exploring their worlds through play and being forced to learn in other ways can actually be harmful.

“So if we want to improve our schools programs without purchasing anything, we should discontinue the use of any scripted curricular materials in the earliest grades. That is not how young kids learn. There should not be multiple choice tests, but instead only teacher created assessments along with observation.

“God bless those administrators who haven’t gotten caught up in data hysteria and who have allowed their teachers to continue to implement lessons that are suitable for little girls and boys. For the rest, we should allow our teachers to dust off their dramatic play areas, their sand tables, and their art easels and let them be used.

“Early childhood educators have known for years how to use these tools to enhance academic skills with what appears to others to be “just play” and, at the same time, our young ones will again learn essential life skills such as problem solving, cooperation, communication, persistence and creativity. The most important thing of all that children can gain through play is a lifelong love of learning. There is such a thing as the wrong kind of teaching. It’s happening in many of our schools and we have the power to stop it. It won’t cost a dime.”

Here is another no-cost idea:

“No single textbook company or method of teaching can be a good fit for all. If districts have spent thousands of dollars purchasing materials that all are expected to follow then that’s great. Have them available to the teachers to use at their own discretion, in their own time, with their own supplements as they see fit. That’s called teaching. Not only will it not demand additional money but it will reduce the exodus of great educators from the profession because they will once again be allowed to do the job for which they were trained. It will set us back on the path to the highest quality of teaching and learning possible.”

Moore advises teachers to get involved in the Presidential primary. Study the candidates’ records on education. Ask them questions.

“The last thing is an easy one for those of us in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. We need to pay attention to the political races and, ultimately, cast our vote for candidates who will make schools a priority. We have the opportunity to shake hands with many of these people. We can ask them directly how they plan to fight poverty and inequity, to strengthen public schools, to keep the decision-making process away from business interests and with educators….

“Have these candidates supported taking away teacher job protections? Have they promoted a test-based culture? Have they allowed taxpayer money to go to for-profit schools? We need to ask about their beliefs about using artificial measures such as test scores to judge teachers. Showing up at a forum and posing these types of questions will cost us only the gas money to get there.”

Good advice for parents and teachers in every state.

Art Tate, the superintendent of Davenport, Iowa, public schools announced at a school board meeting that he was going to break the law by spending more money for his students than state law allows. He said the district has ample reserves to pay for the additional spending. The Legislature imposed a formula that gives Davenport schools less than 170 other districts. Two-thirds of the students in the district are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Art Tate joins the honor roll of this blog for his courage and readiness to take a stand on behalf of students.


Davenport schools Superintendent Art Tate Monday said he intends to “violate state law” and use more money than the state of Iowa has authorized.


The move will stave off budget cuts that Tate and the board had been discussing for months.


“I am taking this action after careful consideration and understanding the possible personal consequence,” Tate said. “I take full and sole responsibility for the violation of state law.


“With this action, I am following the example of our state Legislature, which has ignored the law this year by not providing districts with the state supplemental aid amount by Feb. 12, 2015.”


Tate’s address to the board and the audience was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.


Tate said a legislative forum on Saturday, when he saw some of his students wearing T-shirts that said “I’m Worth-Less,” influenced his decision.


Three students wore those T-shirts to the Monday board meeting and spoke about the inequity of the state funding system for education.


“We won’t stand for our schools being underfunded,” North High School student Anthony DeSalvo said. “We won’t stand for inequality. Our students are not worth less than anyone else.”


All three students briefly stood behind Tate during the board meeting.


The forum, Tate said, made him realize his personal responsibility as the district leader to take action. The students’ T-shirts, he said, are literally correct….


Earlier, Tate had planned for the district to slash $3.5 million from the general fund budget for the 2015-16 school year and $5 million from the next year’s budget.
Several board members spoke in support of Tate.
“I think it’s criminal that we’re put in this position and that our children are made to wear shirts that say ‘I’m Worth-Less,'” said board member Jamie Snyder. “What investment does the state of Iowa think is more important than our children?”
“I applaud you, Dr. Tate,” said board member Ken Krumwiede, who also attended the Saturday forum. He said he was disappointed in the legislators who were there. “I hope you’re all listening out there … you need to contact your legislators to get things changed in Des Moines.”
Board Vice President Rich Clewell said, to much laughter, that he felt like he had “walked out of a board meeting and into a Baptist revival.”
“Although the cost of education might be high, what is the cost of ignorance?” Clewell asked.
Tate said he will make budget cuts with early retirement, utility savings through an energy conservation program, moving maintenance contracts from the general fund to the management fund and curtailing professional development during the school day, amounting to $1.4 million in savings.
“I will be asking no other reductions to programs and personnel, and most notably, I will not be increasing class size in order to reduce teacher positions,” he said.
Tate said he intends to use up to $1 million to support new programs to reduce the achievement gap, to “fight the effects of poverty, and to address diversion programs needed to turn around our out-of-school suspension numbers.”