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Des Moines Register: Leaders hope 7th time's a charm for education reform plan

For decades, recommendations have been made, but most failed to gain traction.

Written by SHEENA DOOLEY
Des Moines Register
October 1, 2011

Six times in the past three decades, education reform proposals aimed at ratcheting up teachers’ classroom performance and students’ academic skills have been rolled out in Iowa.

And six times, reports filled with ideas on how to create a world-class education system were shelved because of a lack of money and political bickering.

Monday morning, the newest round of education reforms will be unveiled. And, like previous ideas, these proposals are expected to focus on setting clear and rigorous academic standards for the state’s 468,000 students; improving the effectiveness of 35,000 teachers; and increasing innovation in classrooms.

While the broad ideas are not new, the urgency to implement them is. And this time around, education leaders are counting on the reforms to stick.

“A lot of what has occurred has just been tinkering around the edges,” said Kittie Weston-Knauer, a retired Des Moines principal hired to open the district’s first charter school. “We have these initiatives that come to the forefront and then things just fall to the wayside.”

That’s not to say reform measures haven’t taken hold in Iowa. A few have, including teacher licensure procedures.

Most other reforms, though, failed largely because education leaders and lawmakers adopted initiatives piecemeal.

Some initiatives fell to the wayside after lawmakers cut funding or grant money ran out, said Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education.

“I understand there is skepticism,” he said. “What has to be different now is we have to build a reform agenda that transcends ideology and traditional party politics. We need this to sustain beyond the next election. We have to pitch it right down the middle.”

Other states and countries have recognized the need to strengthen their education systems in order to compete in

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Welcome to Washington's Food Fight, Mr. Smith

foodfightJust as Jimmy Stewart’s Jefferson Smith did upon his cinematic arrival in Washington, this year’s Capitol newbies will encounter the three major political “food” groups – The Know-It Alls, The Pessimists and The Relativists.  If they are lucky, or smart, or just plain good, they may find themselves associating with a lesser known but more effective commodity – the more principled drivers of change, The Reformers.

Unlike the Reformers, the Know-It-Alls are the Washington establishment, which on the whole believe that everything being done now in the federal government is as it should be, is being done for a reason and must simply be sustained and grown – not changed one bit. It’s good, it’s comfortable and it all seems to work for them. Don’t worry about effectiveness or review. That’s for the pessimists.

The Pessimists don’t really believe things are working well, but they require hard, fast proof before they accept anything new.  They complain that things aren’t funded enough and that the government needs more regulation, not less (indeed, they are pessimists and believe the people cannot really govern themselves).  They believe that our rights have been taken away by various agencies and public bodies. The Pessimists cast a dark cloud over anything that may suggest more choice and freedom – particularly in education.  How can you trust them, afterall?

The Relativists are on everybody’s side.  There is no deal too compromising for them.  You have your opinion, I have mine. They are all equal. There’s really no right or wrong (except in the opposite political party).  If you really believe in a cause, the relativists are at the ready with their idea of reality – that you simply can’t win at all so don’t even try. Relativists tell reformers to

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