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?

5 Responses to “Dreaming bigger for Iowa education”

  1. Scott,
    You should consider adding a strong emphasis on integrating more direct relationships for students and teachers with peers around our country and globe for better understanding. Not just electronic connections, but well resourced extended national and international travels. Clear from our state’s political discourse, our future families could be starved of a true international perspective or of the deep disparities that exist between cities and states.


  2. Scott, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment at my blog.

    I’ll just say here that I would add orchestra and preK-12 Montessori programs to the dreaming bigger list. And that I’d be happy to be part of working together to moving Iowa education forward and dreaming bigger instead of thinking small.

  3. Scott,

    Our current schools are largely set up to prepare students to attend a post-secondary institution. Your vision is for a k-12 education where students are preparing for life, not just more schooling. It is an vision whose time needs to come soon. I think your strongest points relate to alternative options for our students. We do need more centers for at-risk students and students who may be best served with internships and apprenticeships. You are also correct that we need to get all of Iowa’s educational players together to talk about what schools in Iowa should look like. On the TV show the “West Wing” they would call it a “Blue Ribbon” commission who got together, shut the door, and didn’t come out until they were able to articulate a vision for the future. Keep pushing our thinking Mr. Mcleod. The status quo isn’t good enough.

    Patrick Kearney

  4. Asking questions — lots of them — helps move us from the status quo. At some point, however, we have to stop admiring the problem and try something. We know that our students need to be prepared differently for a radically different reality than our own. Creating high level thinkers requires support and encouragement from inside and outside our schools. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, and I’d like to know some ways you have addressed these issues in your school.

    • Hi Deborah,

      As a university professor, center founder/director, and now Director of Innovation, I live in this space every day. The educators that I’ve worked with have moved their classrooms forward toward deeper learning, greater student agency, and better technology integration. At the systems level, administrators and I have worked on problem-based learning, 1:1 environments, and leadership/policy structures to facilitate school transformation and support students, educators, and communities (just to name a few).

      My bio and CV are here: http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/bio


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