DES MOINES — The typical school day won’t be much different next year from the way it was this year for most of Iowa’s K-12 students and their families, despite the education reform package passed by the Legislature last week.

Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the legislation even though he and Department of Education Director Jason Glass agree it falls short of what they wanted.

The governor’s ambitious 156-page, $25 million proposal released in January is now a 33-page package costing less than a tenth of the original figure, and that money is earmarked for early childhood reading.

Some of the most controversial proposals were chucked overboard in the waning days of the 84th General Assembly when it became clear that the majority Republicans in the House could not agree with the majority Democrats in the Senate.

Still, some students — those in third grade, those who take online courses and those who are in college studying to become teachers — will see changes, assuming Branstad signs the measure into law.

“Much of what was required in (the legislation) we are already doing,” said Paul Gausman, superintendent of Sioux City Community School District and chairman of the Urban Education Network of Iowa.

“There are some items we’d like a little more clarity on and to see some details on, like how they define collaboration time,” he said. “I think the conversations we had this year were ambitious, and I think what was done here won’t have immediate changes but laid the groundwork for the future.”

Third-grade retention, online learning

The reform legislation keeps a controversial third-grade retention provision for children who aren’t reading at grade level.

But it allows teachers to take into consideration how a student fares in other subjects, requires specific extra help in reading and requires consultations with parents or guardians before a child is held back.

Students who signed up for online courses through one of the companies that set up shop this year in Iowa won’t have to worry about classes being canceled this fall.

The reform legislation allows the programs at Clayton Ridge and CAM Community School Districts to continue, but it limits the number of students who can participate in them to about 900 statewide.

It also limits the number of students who can open enroll to an outside school district for the purposes of 100 percent online learning to 1 percent of the home district.

“I think there are people who simply don’t get online education,” said Phil Wise, a former Democratic state lawmaker who works as a lobbyist for the Iowa Department of Education.

“There was just a great deal of suspicion in the idea of online learning.”

The reform proposal creates a panel to study online learning and make recommendations on how it should work in the state.

“We’re going to have a pilot project, essentially, for the next three years,” Wise said.

Setting the stage

Although lawmakers didn’t like the governor’s suggested 3.0 GPA requirement for incoming teachers, they did put in some provisions aimed at those entering teacher-preparation programs.

University of Northern Iowa School of Education Dean Dwight Watson said he was never a fan of the strict grade requirement because the job of preparation programs is to make students better.

“It’s not so much the entry, it’s the exit,” he said.

The reform does require that students in teacher-preparation programs take an assessment test that compares students at UNI to other schools across the state and country. This, Watson said, will give the state “a national barometer” to measure its programs against.

The reform package also sets the stage for additional changes by ordering commissions to study and make recommendations on online learning, school instruction time, teaching standards and competency-based education.

Branstad, meanwhile, indicated he’ll likely push more proposals next year.

As spokesman Tim Albrecht said last week, “The governor hopes more bold, reform-minded leaders will join him at the Capitol next year and begin the necessary reforms that ensure there is a great teacher in every classroom, a great principal leading every building, high academic standards and strong matching assessments.”


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