Light Rain
65°FLight RainFull Forecast

Closing the ‘Achievement Gap’ in Iowa’s schools

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:07 p.m. CDT

Every child, regardless of zip code, deserves aquality public school education. Unfortunately, for our State’s children growing up in low-incomeneighborhoods, far too often this is not the case. On average, children in low-incomeneighborhoods are two to two-and-a-half grade levels behind their peers inhigher 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 educationinequity. So it stands to reason that we should be doing everything possible toattract 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 teachersin 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 TeacherProject. 

Hannah Olson is just one example of a teacher thatIowa children are missing out on.  Hannahgrew 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 fullcertification 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 homestate 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 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 otherstates.

Mark Jacobs founded Reaching Higher Iowa to advocate for improvedpublic education in Iowa. For six years, he was a board member and served aterm as board chair of KIPP Houston Public Schools, which serves more than 9,500 economicallydisadvantaged students.  Drawing from his experiences as a Fortune 500 CEO and high-level strategic and financial advisor, Mark is currently teaching a capstone business strategy class to graduating seniors at Iowa State University. He may be contacted at mark@reachinghigheriowa.org via email.

Previous Page|1|2|Next Page

More News

National video

Reader Poll

Which college football team will you be rooting for this fall?
University of Iowa
Iowa State University
University of Northern Iowa