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Letters to the Editor

ESSA plan could sink Iowa education

The Iowa Department of Education produced its second draft of a response to ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), calling for comments in July so it can produce a third, and final draft, that will go to the U.S. Department of Education as the accountability plan Iowa educators will use to improve student proficiencies. If the third draft is no better than the second, Iowa will continue to sink in state rankings on NAEP.

Iowa Director of Education, Ryan Wise, provided an overview of the plan in the introduction, citing seven actions Iowa has taken in the last five years to improve. The first example on the list is the early literacy initiative to make sure all students can read proficiently by the end of third grade. Not mentioned is the fact this has been judged a complete failure. The standard Iowa calls grade level is termed “basic” (entry level) by NAEP, which is not proficient. The latest report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, indicated the early elementary training programs failed to include all five of the concepts known as the science of reading for all but four of them. The last program to move from two of the concepts to five was the University of Iowa, where the Iowa Reading Center is attached. Offering all five of the concepts does not mean any of them are being effective taught.

Clearly they are not, because Iowa’s NAEP scores for fourth-grade reading have fallen into the bottom 50 percent of the country in ranking. Iowa educators, however, point to the fact the average scores are equivalent to the national average — completely ignoring the fact that as more states figure out how to effectively teach, the national average will rise and Iowa’s ranking will continue to fall. Failing to deal with reality negatively impacts decision-making and continues to avoid responsibility for poor decisions. The remaining six items listed will not result in Iowa education taking responsibility for student outcomes, so accountability under ESSA will likely be a source of frustration.

Government intervention came about because of low critical thinking skills in the workplace. Developing critical thinking skills involves understanding the processes of concepts in order to effectively apply them. Substituting memorization – which is what education did for more than 60 years — bypasses the process and, thus, the development of more in-depth thinking skills. Iowa’s plan is the product of such a system.

Sue Atkinson

Baxter

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