Tag Archives: iowa

That bonus you didn’t get at work (aka Iowa education reform in 2015)

State Flag of Iowa

Imagine that your bosses come up to you one day and say something like this…

Hey, I know that we’re a year and a half late on this but we’re trying to take care of you. It looks like the company’s profits are solid but we’re just not sure right now. At this point all we can offer is a 1.25% raise for you and your co-workers. I know that’s below inflation and you’re going to have cut back at home but that’s all we’re comfortable with given our uncertainty about the financial projections. We have to keep this company in the black. We can’t revert back to past years when we operated at a loss, particularly given our new employee compensation system in which a few high fliers get a little extra in their paycheck.

At this point you’re thinking…

Okay, this isn’t great but at least they’re being up front with me. Next year is going to be a really tough year, particularly since I’m already behind given less-than-inflation-rate raises in past years. My peers and I will try to tough it out and hope for better years ahead. [sigh]

Later you hear that the company’s profits are estimated to be 6% this year. You wonder a little bit about where that money is going but your bosses come back to you and say…

Hey, remember that 1.25% raise? We’ve got good news! We know that it’s taken us months to decide but we think we also might be able to squeeze a one-time bonus for you and your fellow employees. It won’t be much but we only have so much money. I know you’re hearing about some profit projections but they’re just estimates, not just actual numbers. Given our need to be fiscally accountable to our stakeholders, we can’t engage in deficit spending.

You’re a little more skeptical this time around but you’re grateful that some additional monies seem to be available. You’re thinking about those college tuition expenses for your kid, the increased gas tax that your state just passed, that old clunker that you’ve been driving around on your barely middle class salary, your ever-growing utility bills…

Not great news but a little better than before. I understand our need to stay out of the red, even though it’s getting harder and harder to take good care of our customers. My co-workers and I will keep on keeping on. Hopefully next year will be more positive. [ugh]

Your bosses come back to you one last time…

Fantastic news! We figured out both the 1.25% raise and the additional one-time bonus for everyone. We greatly appreciate all that you and your colleagues do for us. Your work is SO important to our success and to our customers. All we have to do is run this by the CEO for his approval. Shouldn’t be a problem.

You sit back and wait, fingers and toes crossed, week after week. The bills keep mounting and you’re waiting to decide whether to make some key spending decisions at home for next year. You’ve already been putting them off for months. The longer the CEO takes to decide, the more nervous you get. You’re still hopeful but you can’t make any firm resolutions until you hear for sure.

The 6% profit projections get confirmed so you figure that’s good news, particularly since you know that the company’s rainy day fund also is flush. But then you hear that one of the reasons that there isn’t enough money for you and your fellow employees this year is that your bosses have been giving away huge chunks of the company’s profits to folks who don’t really need it, including other companies and a billionaire businessman who is the richest man in Egypt. And your bosses plan to continue to do so for the next decade with the hope that those folks will keep investing in the company. Now you’re angry but you’re also still a wee bit hopeful…

This stinks. Those funds could have helped me and my family. And my co-workers’ families. And our customers. Instead, we’re being sold a line about fiscal austerity when profits are high. But I really need the money, so I’m not going to make too big a fuss. Hopefully the CEO will come through. [please, oh please, oh please]

Finally, the day arrives. The CEO makes a major announcement moments before everyone heads out for a long vacation weekend. Unfortunately for you and your colleagues, the company is NOT going to pay for the one-time bonuses, leaving you with measly 1.25% raises. Speaking with great conviction, he offers numerous reasons for his decision, including finger-wagging dissatisfaction with your bosses’ budget negotiations, past accounting practices, the company’s investments in other areas, the economic crisis in Greece, and avian flu, even as the profit projections for next year roll in at an additional 6%. Of course the negative impacts of the decision are borne by you, your co-workers, and your customers, not your bosses or the CEO. As you walk away, head in hands and tears of disbelief streaming down your face, you think to yourself…

I hate this. My colleagues and I are going to have to cut back at home yet again, simply because of our company’s unwillingness to invest in us and our customers. They say that they want a world class workplace but they’re not willing to pay for it. No wonder we’re 34th compared to our competitors. I love the people that we serve but I’m underpaid, underappreciated, and the people in charge don’t seem to care one whit. Maybe it’s time to take this job and shove it.

What are you thinking right now? Got a little glimpse of how Iowa schools and area education agencies felt last week after Governor Branstad’s veto?

Hey, quit your whining.

7 questions after Governor Branstad’s school funding veto

A few folks know that I was one of the three finalists to be the next Director of the Iowa Department of Education. It was an interesting process (e.g., just two 30-minute interviews is apparently all that it takes) but I did feel that I was able to present my best self. I discussed how we won’t see desired changes in student learning outcomes until we change what students experience in their schools on a day-to-day basis. I talked about how investment in deeper learning also is workforce development. I shared some big ideas about where I thought Iowa education could / should go. I highlighted my work with 130+ Iowa schools and other organizations and my strong networks across the state and planet. And so on. Ultimately they decided on the in-house candidate, former Deputy Director Ryan Wise, who is sharp, talented, and knows how both the Department and the politics work. I think Ryan was an excellent choice and wish him all the best in his new role.

One of the obligatory questions in the interview process is What will you do if you disagree with the Governor? After last week’s veto of school funding by Governor Terry Branstad, I’m really happy that I’m not the one who has to stand in front of educators over the next few months and defend that decision. I blogged in March that it was really tough to feel positive about education politics in Iowa this year and I was proven right. The Governor waited until just before the July 4 vacation weekend to make the announcement that 1) he was willing to increase school funding next year at only 1.25%, a rate that comes nowhere near inflation, and 2) he wasn’t willing to sign off on $55+ million in one-time funding that at least would have stemmed some of the losses that schools will face next year. School districts estimate that this fall they will have over 1,000 teaching positions unfilled or terminated across the state as they struggle to pay the bills. Every major newspaper and educational organization has come out in opposition to the underfunding of schools by the legislature and Governor, noting also that our policymakers were a year and a half overdue with their legal obligation to set school funding. Adding potential insult to injury, the Governor’s first press conference after his school funding veto began with a 5-minute shout-out to the tourism industry and a claim that the school start date ‘compromise’ legislation that was opposed by essentially every school district in Iowa was a ‘win-win.’

I think that there are some big questions that we have to ask as a state after the Governor’s school funding veto. Here are a few that currently are on my mind…

1. Budgets reflect policy priorities. How big a priority are our public schools?

School funding tweet 02

Belying the rhetoric about wanting ‘world class schools,’ over the past few years we have witnessed Iowa policymakers’ willingness to decrease the money allocated to our schools and universities, despite a strong state economy and full reserves. Iowa’s spending per pupil is well below the national average and the percentage of the overall state budget allocated to education is several percentage points lower than it was just a few years ago, causing the Iowa State Education Association to say, “We haven’t seen this dramatic a lack of funding ever.” This year we were willing to fund only a 1.25% increase for schools, despite net tax receipts this year that were 6% higher than last and projected 6% growth in revenue for next year. Yes, some of our districts have teacher leadership monies in addition to the 1.25% allowable growth funding. But those teacher leadership funds were supposed to supplement, not supplant, the dollars needed to keep school buildings running and only a few teachers are benefiting from them. So while education continues to be the biggest part of the state budget, it seems that all of the funding trends are negative, not positive. We are falling further behind rather than catching up. Are we only willing to fund schools’ basic operations at below inflationary rates, even when our revenues and economy are strong?

2. Are we willing to trade tax cuts for education (and other) funding?

Iowa tax cuts

Some of the monies that could go to schools instead seem to be going to tax cuts. For instance, next year our recently-passed commercial property tax cuts will remove an estimated $278 million from the state budget. Tens of millions of dollars are going to companies like Iowa Fertilizer (a subsidiary of Orascom, the CEO of which is billionaire Nassef Sawiris, the wealthiest man in Egypt), which just requested additional tax breaks despite already receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from local, state, and other sources. The Iowa legislature is talking about trying to reduce income tax revenue too. In response to schools’ requests for more funds, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said, “This is a mathematical problem: The state only has so much money.” But we’re giving away revenue and then saying that we don’t have the funds for our schoolchildren. It seems that the tax cut monies alone would have funded increases in education and other basic services several times over. I’m not anti-business by any means and am in full support of job creation initiatives but our overall business tax levels already are below the national average. Maybe we could do less of this? Or is Iowa trying to become a low tax, low revenue, low education state like Kansas or Louisiana?

3. Do we have any other options besides trying to cover?

Iowa has the top high school graduation rate in the country. We have the third-highest average ACT score of states that test at least half of their graduates. These, personnel sharing arrangements, and other successes are a testament to the efforts of our educators, school systems, and communities to somehow make it all work. But our ability to make do with less makes it easier for Iowa policymakers to continue to starve our schools. At some point the stresses on the system will cause it to break but for now they can continue to push on the edges, knowing that our schools’ eventual failure will occur during someone else’s political cycle. I don’t know what the answer is, particularly since educators in Iowa can’t strike and don’t want to put policy interests above the day-to-day needs of their students. What options do we have besides trying to continue to cover?

4. Are our representatives actually representing our wishes?

One option we all have in our democracy, of course, is voting and participating in the political process. Although social media was a big part of this year’s school funding dialogue, slacktivism can be a fairly easy trap to fall into. Tweets and pins and blog posts and Facebook ‘likes’ are fairly easy to ignore, particularly by policymakers whom are less technology-knowledgeable. We will never know how much pressure to adequately fund schools the Iowa legislators and Governor received from parents, community members, and educators via phone calls, letters, in-person visits, etc. We do know that those requests were unsuccessful.

This year I’ve wondered about the involvement (or lack thereof) of the educators and communities represented by those policymakers who voted against more than minimal school funding. It’s difficult to believe that those families and teachers weren’t concerned about the lack of funds that would be going to their local schools and the impacts on their classrooms and educators. Regardless, their concerns (if any) weren’t powerful enough to dissuade their local representatives from the course that they took.

Battles over school funding will continue. If we like the current path that we’re on, so be it, but if we want different decision-making by those whom we elect to represent us, we must make our voices louder and our votes count. Midwest educators are doubly nice, both because of the culture of where we live and because of our profession. We trust our representatives to represent us and then ever-so-quietly express our concerns when they don’t. We rely on the small handful of statewide organizations to speak for us rather than recognizing that our own individual voices are important (other than Patrick Kearney from Johnston, how many educators were writing regularly and publicly, expressing their concerns in formats longer than 140 characters?). Roark Horn, Executive Director of the School Administrators of Iowa, reminded us this week of the difference between reacting and responding, noting that “it is natural to want to react with the anger and frustration that we feel” as classroom teachers and school leaders. Roark is correct about our tone but I will also note that educators’ current policy advocacy is not working. Politics often requires a bolder voice than we educators are accustomed to exercising. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” At the recent ISTE conference, Pernille Ripp reminded us that we can’t stop fighting for what is right for kids. Will Iowa educators shrug their shoulders and roll over (yet again) or will they do what’s necessary to effectuate the changes that they’d like to see? Maybe it’s time to ask every educator in Iowa to pledge to vote in the next election? Will Iowans hold their representatives accountable next election year for their school funding decisions over the past few years?

5. What behavioral expectations should we have for our representatives?

It was a frustrating year on all sides of the school funding debate. But that doesn’t mean that we get a free pass on how we treat each other, even in the often rough-and-tumble, bare knuckles environment that is politics. Should we expect rooms for public hearings to actually be big enough to hold the public? Should we expect our legislators to actually listen (and maybe respond) to the concerns that we express? Should we expect better than this from our representatives? Or this? Or this?

6. What messages are we sending our young people?

Earlier this week Governor Branstad said, “The only way that we’re going to be able to keep our smaller school districts alive and successful is if we’re able to attract young families that have children.” and “Every child in Iowa [should] have the opportunity to get a quality education.” It’s hard to see how our recent educational funding decisions accomplish this as schools across the state now have to fire teachers or leave positions unfulfilled.

College graduates continue to leave our state, contributing to Iowa’s ‘brain drain’ (which was noted at least ten years ago). The Governor rightfully notes that we need to attract young families to our small towns. What messages do our disinvestments in schools send them as they consider where they want to live and raise their children?

7. What does our new Director think?

School funding tweet 01

The Director of the Iowa Department of Education is a political appointee who serves at the discretion of the Governor. But hopefully he or she also is an advocate for children and teachers and schools, not just a puppet or mouthpiece. Hopefully he or she is a fierce proponent of schools getting the resources and autonomy that they need to be successful. So with that in mind, does Ryan Wise agree with the veto? (will Mackenzie Ryan or someone else ask him on record?)

Patrick Kearney rightfully asked, “How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?” I think that’s a good question for Ryan too…

As always, feedback and pushback are welcome. Your thoughts?

Dreaming bigger for Iowa education


Lately I’ve been trying to dream a little bigger about Iowa schools. Feel free to map this onto your own state or province…


Bottom line

What if…

  1. every Urban Education Network of Iowa district had an ‘alternative’ high school for low-achieving students that focused on creative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, and community contribution instead of worksheet packets and self-paced online courses? (some may already)
  2. each regional Area Education Agency had the capacity to help its districts create project-based learning ‘incubators?’ (kind of like Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids)
  3. the Iowa Department of Education worked with the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chambers of Commerce, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and others to help superintendents, school boards, communities, and postsecondary institutions envision a more transformative learning future for students?
  4. given our tremendous grassroots movement toward 1:1 computing environments – 200+ out of 331 districts (and counting!) – Iowa was the first state in the country (other than maybe Maine) to place its instructional technology emphasis on enhanced learning and teaching, not just access?
  5. like in many private schools and Rhode Island, high school seniors had to complete a deep, complex, multidisciplinary capstone requirement in order to graduate?
  6. every high school student in Iowa had the opportunity to do a credit-earning, community-based internship before graduation?
  7. there was statewide pressure from school districts on educator preparation programs to be more relevant?
  8. one or more Iowa universities worked with external partners to design and deliver a ‘Future Ready’ leadership graduate certificate that would give teacher leaders and administrators the skills necessary to foster 21st century learning environments?
  9. we utilized hands-on, engaging STEM activities more often in core math and science courses, not just in electives or extracurricular programs?
  10. Iowa Learning Online dramatically expanded its offerings to include electives such as Agricultural Engineering, Design Thinking, Sustainable Development, Digital Marketing, or Computer Programming and students not only could get high school or university course credit but also microcredentials that could be used for employment?
  11. our various statewide education summits were targeted, focused opportunities for us to work together and craft solutions, not just sit and listen?
  12. we trained district curriculum leaders in various blended learning models?
  13. we had regional exemplar schools across the state like Waukee APEX, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, or the urban National Academy Foundation schools, with an emphasis on intentional dissemination partnerships to spread best practices to other schools?
  14. we scaled competency-based education to the next level (like in some other states) rather than it idling in the pilot stage?
  15. like some states and districts, we created open access textbooks and taught teachers how to curate open educational resources (OER), thus freeing up textbook monies for other purposes?
  16. we did a much better job of raising the (inter)national visibility of Iowa’s amazing educational initiatives through better utilization of social media channels, online communities, and digital branding and marketing strategies?
  17. the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other partners collaboratively approached a major education foundation, corporation, or government grant program and said, “We’re deadly serious about thinking REALLY big here. Help us make it happen?”

Each of these would be big. Many of these together would be amazing… What do you think? What would you add to (or remove from) this list?

Robot alligators

Lego Alligator

I spent this morning at the Maker Tech Camp at Edwards Elementary here in Ames. Teresa Green is an innovative teacher who received a grant from the district last year to purchase various ‘maker’ resources. Since then she has been busy putting them and her students to work!

Today’s activity for the 2nd and 3rd graders was to build a Lego alligator and have it chomp down when it sensed a finger or pencil in its mouth. The students had to build the alligator – including the motion sensor – and then figure out how to use the Lego WeDo software to code it correctly. The Team Neutrino First Robotics student helpers from Ames High were of great assistance. My favorite kid quote from today was

We sent a message to the alligator and then the alligator said ‘Oh, I can do that!’

Other camp activities this week appeared to include making LED bookmarks, learning circuitry by playing with Makey Makey and other electronics, creating objects with the 3D printer, and goofing around with robots. Teresa and I talked about a lot of different things while I was there, including how to sell others on the educational value of this kind of learning, how to be less directive and enable the kids to explore more, and what ‘maker days’ have looked like at other elementary schools across Iowa. Teresa also shared with me that the Science Center of Iowa is hosting ‘maker chats’ on Twitter every other Tuesday evening this summer at 7pm CST using the #iamakerchat hashtag.

This is always good stuff. More of this, please.

Innovation, 3D roller coasters, and questioning the status quo

Change Post Its

Below are my notes from Day 1 of our Northwest Iowa TICL conference

Tony Vincent, Learning In Hand@tonyvincent

Question the Status Quo

  • Entrepreneurs are curious, creative, and fearless about experimentation – Hal Gregersen
  • Showing us a series of ‘life hacks’ to help us think outside the box
  • What does innovation mean to you? (using the Post-It Plus app to display audience responses)
    • Sometimes innovation means you have to stay within a box and think creatively
  • MyScript Calculator and PhotoMath
  • Use ‘-teacherspayteachers’ to exclude that site from your Google searches for teaching resources
  • Other places to search for resources include Pinterest, Diigo, Slideshare, YouTube, Twitter, etc.
  • Eric Schmidt – “the best way we’ve found to foster [innovation] at Google is to create an environment where ideas can collide in new and interesting ways, and the good ones are given resources to grow”
  • Plickers is an innovative tool created by an educator
  • Limitations can lead to innovations (e.g., using the address app to make our own dictionary / word wall)
  • Using Amazon book reviews with 5th grade students
  • Inklewriter allows students to make ‘choose your own adventure’ stories
  • Obvious to You, Amazing to Others video (Derek Sivers)

Oculus Rift 02

Dane Barner, StuCamp, @MrBarnerWCMS
Sustainable Innovation: Creating a Space for Innovation to Happen
  • No Box Thinking chat, #nbchat
  • Is lack of change just implementation fidelity?
  • Me: If you say to a teaching staff that we’re going to try a bunch of stuff and expect most of it to fail, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy
  • Dane: Innovation is change with purpose. Innovation is not something that we do, it’s something that happens.
  • Adam Bellow: Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear and bravery
  • Dane: Innovation requires an innovative mindset, the removal of restrictions, the right people, and failure as an option
  • Rachelle Mau: Fossilized mindset = they have concrete in their shoes and they’re buying concrete for others…
  • Dane: growth mindset = doing things you haven’t done before, innovative mindset = thinking in ways you haven’t before (and accept them)
  • Two core beliefs in schools: just tell me what to do, and there is a right answer (I just have to figure out what it is) – for both student and adult learners
  • What does it say about us as educators that we tenaciously hang on to what we know doesn’t work?
  • The curse of the three Ss – sports, schedule, and staffing
  • How do the people around you affect your ability to be innovative?
  • Dane: Dreamers and grounders
  • Failure is an event not a destination
  • Learning to walk: After falling, have you ever seen a baby say, “That’s it, I’m a crawler!”

Iowa State University FLEx trailer, Pete Evans, @petemevans #ISUFLEx

  • I experienced a virtual roller coaster wearing Oculus Rift (very cool!)
  • Also present: 3D printer, Little Bits, and more!

That’s not a given

Discard an axiom

I loved hearing Will Richardson say at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference last November that ‘curriculum is a strategy.’

Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.

If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’

Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.

[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]

Image credit: Oblique strategies, Bastiaan Terhorst

How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?


Patrick Kearney said:

I had a Republican legislator [in Iowa] reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenues) for corporate property tax relief. He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget. He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5,000 less than the national average). He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth). I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong. I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities. I disagree that losing over 1,000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better. I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

via https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/april-30-2015-in-iowa

Image credit: ISEA

If you’re an Iowan, wear pink tomorrow

Pink slips tweet

Tomorrow is #PinkApril30, so named because of the unfilled teaching positions and educator pink slips that Iowa school districts will have next year because their operational funding won’t be enough to keep up with inflation despite our state’s strong economy and full reserves. It’s been an extremely disappointing year as we’ve watched our House propose to cut funding from both our public schools and our public universities. We’re already underfunded compared to most states and we know that investments in our youth are critical for current and future success, yet we are disinvesting in our children and instead finding new ways to reduce state revenue. It looks like we’re trying to be Kansas (sorry, Kansans).

Will wearing pink do anything to break apart our legislators’ intransigence? Will wearing pink do anything to force our policymakers to compromise? Will wearing pink do anything to give our schools what they need to keep the lights on and the buses running? No, probably not, but it might at least make you feel a little solidarity with the rest of us who are so dang frustrated…

Said No Iowan Ever

Notes from the 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

Here are my notes from today’s 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Welcome, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • STEM should be a catalyst for active learning
  • Launching a STEM Council Seal of Approval for programs (e.g. Exploring Iowa Archaeology)
  • Over 5,100 applications were submitted for STEM Scale-Up Grants
  • Numerous STEM externships are available for teachers
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Sioux Center High School
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Davenport West High School
    • Design a lunar space station

Opening Address, Kwizera Imani

  • Used to live in Kigoma, Tanzania
  • Family fled genocide and was chosen by the U.N. to move to the U.S.
  • Learned enough English to transition into regular classes in 8th grade, finished all high school coursework by 11th grade, now taking 5 AP classes as a senior
  • Will attend Iowa State U. this fall, majoring in Aerospace Engineering
  • In 9th grade, participated in an aviation program at the Des Moines International Airport

Iowa’s STEM Teaching Endorsement Partnership – Higher Education Plan, Jeff Weld & Kris Kilibarda

  • What does best practice for integrative STEM pedagogy look like?
  • How do endorsement seekers get engineering experience if the university doesn’t have an engineering program?
  • Can we graduate preservice teachers that come out of the gate with interdisciplinary STEM competencies?
  • Is ‘STEM pedagogy’ just layering applied PBL and inquiry lenses onto STEM subject areas?
  • There are many questions about these endorsements that still need to be answered

Lunch and STEM Education Awards for Inspired Teaching, Gov. Terry Branstad & Chris Nelson

STEM in Iowa’s Re-Envisioned Economic Development Roadmap (2014 Battelle Report), Kathryn Kunert & Carrie Rankin

Northwest Iowa STEM Region Breakout Session, Molly Faber & Mary Trent

  • Created a STEM and Scale-Up Introduction short course on AEA PD Online (explains each scale-up grant in ways that are easier, more accessible for teachers)
  • Wish this wasn’t locked down behind AEA PD Online (with quizzes!) instead of being openly accessible via a blog, web site, wiki, etc.
  • Breakout group questions
    • What’s going well in the NW region?
      • Outreach that Mary’s doing – PD for teachers – STEM day for 6th graders – there’s a lot of outreach occurring right now that is creating awareness
      • We also are seeing more business partnerships, co-sponsorships
      • Scale-up grant impacts have been favorable – are using them well in our district
      • World Food Prize – lots of supportive communities – we believe in making this happen
      • First Lego League – still getting emails about what’s going on – possible grants that are coming up – great communication
      • Girls Scouts – all girl Lego leagues, Engineering is Elementary – girls are empowered – Flying Monkeys prosthetic device patent!
      • Belie-Blank – Spencer CSD is doing math-science extracurricular with 6-8 graders
      • Prairie Lakes AEA – seeing lots of depth with Defined STEM
      • Sioux City CSD – opening a K-5 STEM specialty school in Fall 2015
    • What would we like to see more of in the NW region? What’s missing? What/who/where is the solution?
      • How do we assess student growth / development? Our current assessments aren’t up to the task.
      • Teacher preparation – higher ed isn’t giving us what we need – it could be better
        • Higher ed should be ahead of us, not behind us
      • We need more volunteers / mentors
      • Transportation is an issue – have to get a bus to get home
      • A continued focus on extracurricular instead of curricular – need to get this stuff into core classes, not just after school
      • Ongoing PD for teachers is an ongoing need
  • Rock Valley CSD – student-run manufacturing business?
  • Local college of education just touted this past fall that they had a smartboard that preservice teachers could learn on!
  • Can DE help us align all of these initiatives (e.g., STEM, Teacher Leadership, MTSS) together in better ways?
  • We need to do a better job of attaching learning standards to our STEM activities – we want to see learning progression occurring

STEM Education Award for Inspired Teaching Awardees (Panel), Kacia Cain, Lisa Chizek, Jason Franzenburg, Allison Gregg, Shelly Vanyo, Mike Wedge

  • SV – I no longer think of our space as a classroom – instead, we’re an innovative learning center – no textbooks, we’re a community that solves problems using every resource available to us (including others elsewhere)
  • LC – I try to model learning from mistakes
  • KC – I bring scientists into my classes a lot, but not as talking heads in front of kids – they help with projects – I identify where I could use an extra set of hands, brains, etc. – my kids then send a mass thank you note! – 
  • Jeff Herzberg – why aren’t we giving $20K+ award to a school, not just individual exceptional faculty? – a group of teachers and administrators working together to make this happen?
  • Embrace the chaos, embrace messy learning
  • As a parent of an elementary student, my son has had no science this year – his principal says it’s because of the increased emphasis on reading and math [UGH!]
  • SV – I create opportunities for myself to give up control – I create dramatic chances for other teachers to ‘help me out’ – teachers were getting upset so I had a semester where I pretended that I wasn’t doing SBG – parents are our biggest advocates – I send brown bag experiments home with students to do with parents – homework: teach parents and have them email me what they learned
  • What have administrators done to infect others with your STEM awesomeness? 
    • LC – I lead an annual STEM excellence fair and bring other teachers, community members in that way
    • KC – all of the people at Central Campus are experts in their areas so I had to be sure that I was on my game from Day 1
    • JF – teacher leadership program – we’re doing PBL training for all teachers – I assumed they already knew and were doing it, had to start over and go slower
    • AG – admins just let me set up a science club and I talked a colleague into joining me
  • Differentiation is often easier during hands-on performance tasks – have to listen, keep eyes and ears open to see/hear what they’re doing

Promoting STEM Careers From a School Counselor’s Point of View (Panel)

  • On average, Iowa counselors serve 429 students each
  • Counselors are uniquely trained in career theory and career development and uniquely positioned to bring various resources together to bear for the whole child – when you have 800-900 students, it’s physically impossible to do this, however
  • Most counselors have 60+ graduate hours – that’s a lot of expertise to waste serving on bus duty
  • At no time in my administrative licensure training did I receive guidance on how to most effectively use my counselor
    • Could say this about any role, not just counselors?
  • Local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations are nice resources for career / workforce information, speakers, data, etc.

Closing Remarks, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • A book for everyone who made it to the end of the day, courtesy of DMACC

[As is typical for these statewide summits, the day was heavy on sit-and-get with extremely little interaction… As I’ve said before, can’t we figure out some way to tap into the collective wisdom, expertise, and experience of the 500+ people here?!]

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics

Storm cell

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics. For example…

Our governor wants Iowa schools to return to the top of the NAEP rankings and reclaim their ‘world class’ status but is endorsing a 1.25% budgetary increase that doesn’t even keep up with inflation (while requesting a 9% increase for his own office). As a result, most schools will have to cut people just to keep the lights on and the buses running. We can expect teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, and other disinvestments in the needs of students, despite a solid state economy and a healthy reserve. We may fall as low as 40th in per-pupil spending. So much for being a state that allegedly cares about education.

Our outdated school start date legislation clearly fails to meet the needs of schools (336 out of 338 school districts asked for a waiver last year) but suddenly is being tightly enforced. Our state department of education says that it believes in principles of ‘local control’ but then this year notified districts that it no longer would automatically grant school start date waivers and that essentially every reason they might give for an earlier start date will not be considered legitimate. The school start date consternation is apparently being driven by the tourism industry. Educational needs are being given short shrift.

Of course we’re seeing lots of posturing from both sides of the political aisle (e.g., polarizing comments, Twitter wars, and ‘public’ hearings in rooms that are too small for the public to attend). And we’re seeing some really goofy stuff occurring during what should be important discussions and debates.

We’ve got a superintendent who’s decided he must break the law just to meet the needs of his district’s students. He’s being condemned by some legislators, despite the fact that they themselves break the law year after year when it comes to meeting deadlines for setting school spending authority.

Last week we were notified that our state department of education has now chewed up and spit out its second talented director in less than two years. We’ve got a misbegotten student retention law that’s about to go into effect. Our state assessments don’t align with our state standards. Budgets for our regional educational agencies – which provide essential services to our districts – keep getting reduced. And we’re starting to see proposed legislative attacks on teacher unions that are inconsistent with our rhetoric that we honor and develop teachers. I don’t know if we’re one of ‘those states’ yet when it comes to education but it sure seems like we’re getting closer.

After last year’s legislative session I said to several folks that I was glad it was quiet and positive compared to years past. Apparently last year was just the calm before the storm… [sigh]

Image credit: Storm cell, Tom Gill

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