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Iowa education has perspective problem

Published: Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 10:00 a.m. CST

How we perceive a situation determines how we respond to it. For decades, Iowa educators used a system of memorization that was actually a failure, but the failure was hidden by falsely claiming students who could not learn in such a system to be defective. This discriminatory perception was embedded in the teacher training programs, was part of the licensing requirements, was definitely in the classrooms — and it continues to be reflected in the December 2016 assessment of the elementary teacher training programs by the National Council for Teacher Quality.

In the December 2016 assessment for Iowa’s elementary teacher training programs, the NCTQ found only four programs included all five concepts for reading, but only one in the state used the right materials and training techniques for teachers to be graded above failing. Even the University of Iowa, where the Iowa Reading Research Center is attached, completely failed at elementary reading. Iowa’s teacher training programs fail at using evidence-based research showing that it is the teaching methods and materials that are to blame for poor student proficiencies rather than defective students. A 2016 report cited one excuse for these failures to accept responsibility: “The Dyslexia Dilemma: A History of Ignorance, Complacency and Resistance in Colleges of Education.”

Iowa’s continuing absence of responsibility can be found in the 2014 enactment of Iowa Code section 279.68 and 281(Iowa Administrative Code 62) requiring that “all students in kindergarten through third grade participate in universal screening in reading to determine their level of reading or reading readiness. This requirement includes students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who will or are likely to participate in alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards in third grade.” The problem with this is the presumption that something is wrong with the students rather than the system.

Iowa’s Special Education continues to presume the students to be defective, so there is no attempt to remediate for the ineffective teaching that actually created the situation in the first place for most students assigned to Special Ed. This lack of accepting responsibility not only fails the students (reducing the skills of the workforce and tax revenues), but it also fails at correcting the embedded problems with Iowa’s teacher training programs. The state attempt to write an accountability plan for ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) claims it will be successful, but does not change the false belief in defective students.

Sue Atkinson


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