When a congressperson, or any political figure for that matter, briefly visits Berg Middle School in Newton, teacher Tyler Stewart makes sure his students are prepared to ask questions. It’s not every day they get a chance to do so. By the time Stewart’s civics students entered the classroom with lunches in-hand on Thursday, they had also remembered to bring a single sheet of paper with one or two handwritten questions for U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.
This practice is not uncommon for the retiring representative of Iowa’s second congressional district. In December 2018, Loebsack donned his yellow visitor’s badge at the old middle school building, which has since been demolished and replaced by a new, state-of-the art campus. Opening the floor up to questions, the former educator was straightforward with his answers and didn’t shy away.
From what he could gather, Stewart’s civics students are “really well-informed.”
“They’ve got good questions,” Loebsack said, noting that a particular question regarding federal education standards surprised him.
“I mean, the one about federal involvement in education — I don’t think I’ve got that one before. I’m not sure he expected that I knew that much about it, but that’s OK, too. I know it because I’ve (previously) been on the committee for eight years working on that very issue.”
Before answering the student’s question, Loebsack explained a brief history of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) after being passed about four years ago. The congressman shared his thoughts on the transition, telling the students the federal government was imposing itself too much and setting unrealistic expectations on students, teachers and school districts.
Loebsack suggested NCLB’s methods and rules of measurement were unfair to schools, which would lead to less federal dollars invested into the campus. That, he said, didn’t make any sense. As far as he’s concerned, the new legislation of ESSA allows school districts and the states to “have a lot more flexibility about how students are assessed” and, thus, have multiple measures of achievement.
“So far, I hear it’s going OK, but we still are evaluating how Iowa’s doing with that,” Loebsack said. “But that law allowed more flexibility at the state and local levels … When you’re evaluating students by looking at a fourth grade class one year and then a different group in the fourth grade the next year, to me that’s illogical. It makes no sense. You should be evaluating as best you can the same group of people.”
Of course, students were also interested in issues like political discourse and wondering if relationships between the two major parties are different now. Loebsack confirmed discourse has changed through the years, admonishing both Republicans and Democrats and lamenting that no side is perfect.
Another asked about gun violence in schools, a topic that has been brought up before in the same classroom by a tearful student when then-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke visited Berg Middle School — the ensuing exchange went viral and was circulated on several news networks.
Loebsack admitted there is a gun culture in America and there are issues that are not taken care of very well. The lawmaker opted for better gun safety legislation and could not understand the importance of high volume clips or “military-style” weapons, some of which he said could be banned.
Students asked about LGBTQ rights, the possibility of Russia meddling with the U.S. election, impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump and the Ukraine situation with Hunter Biden. This suggested to Loebsack that these middle school students are keeping themselves up to date on the latest news on Capitol Hill and beyond.
“They obviously are paying attention to what’s going on in America at the moment,” Loebsack said. “It’s good because they are engaged, and that’s what’s really important.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org