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Letters to the Editor

Thirteen years after NCLB, Iowa schools continue to fail

To the editor:

Curt Swarm’s guest column on a liberal arts education, in the June 30 Newton Daily News, serves as an example beyond a liberal arts education; it speaks to the poor quality of high school graduates (82 percent of which graduate behind grade level in this country).

For decades now, businesses have had to deal with applicants who lack the skills to which Curt referred in his column: basic grammar and writing. Higher ed has also had to deal with the influx of high school graduates who lack these basic life skills. When the education system refused to make the necessary repairs, the national government was forced to step in with No Child Left Behind in 2001, telling schools they had to put concepts back into the curriculum (reading and math were specifically cited because they are basic skills), effectively teach these up to grade level, and stop blaming students for the systemic failures.

The National Council on Teacher Quality has been surveying teacher prep programs since 2009 to see which ones are making progress toward national standards, aimed at getting the U.S. back on track with global standards, which are moving farther away from us.  This past January they issued another report on teaching effectiveness for Iowa.

Yearbook Goal Areas Iowa’s 2013 Grades

Area 1: Delivering Well-Prepared Teachers:  D+

Area 2: Expanding the Teacher Pool:  D+

Area 3: Identifying Effective Teachers: D

Area 4: Retaining Effective Teachers:  D

Area 5: Dismissing Ineffective Teachers:  D

Average Overall Grade:  D

The grades mean a few programs are doing a few things correctly, but not enough of them to earn higher grades. This June, the NCTQ issued its report on the specific teacher prep programs in Iowa. For elementary content preparation, none of the programs in Iowa were found to meet this standard. Nationally, 11 percent of all elementary programs either meet or nearly meet this standard. For secondary content preparation, the results were better, with 48 percent of programs fully meeting the standard, compared to the national average of 35 percent. There continues to be a problem with schools failing to implement a concept-based curriculum.

In April of this year, the federal government also made an important move to improve teacher preparation by announcing its intention to strengthen accountability measures for teacher preparation programs and restrict millions in grants to only high-performing programs. “While we are encouraged by the action that has been taken by Iowa and other states, we have a lot more work to do to provide future teachers with the world-class training that both they and students deserve,” added Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “We urge policymakers and higher ed leaders to make this issue priority number one so that teachers in this country get the best possible training for the classroom.”

Thirteen years after NCLB (the K-12 life of a student), Iowa schools continue to fail Iowa students because Iowa’s education lobby has been resisting the necessary upgrades to meet standards.

Sue Atkinson, PhD


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