BELMOND — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said there are higher expectations for education in the 21st century and Iowa students need to be prepared to face them.

That is not going to happen unless the “teaching profession is transformed,” he said, speaking before a group of about 50 at Belmond-Klemme High School Wednesday as part of a 14-city schedule of meetings on education reform.

Last year, Branstad initiated reform discussion and pledged to continue the effort this year.

Branstad admitted measures he envisioned would take years to change.

Providing teachers with supports is a good place to start, he said.

“Great teaching is a game-changer,” he said, and teachers need better pay, tools and collaboration with fellow teaching professionals.

More cooperation among colleagues is “absolutely essential,” and includes “setting academic goals, analyzing achievement data and improving instructional strategies” to meet student needs, he said.

About one-third of third graders and one-third of eighth graders do not read to proficiency levels, according to state tests, he said.

Iowa education overall has slipped in national rankings from placement in the top three 20 years ago, to 29th in fourth grade reading and 25th in eighth grade math, he said.

“Too many are not mastering the most basic skills,” he said.

Raising base teacher pay is essential to attracting people to the profession, he said, and added that those who teach in more “challenging” schools should be rewarded.

“And we should not underestimate what teachers can do,” he said. “We should work to make teachers inspirational leaders” working in collaboration with administrators.

When asked about cost of reform, Branstad said state revenues were in good shape, but declined to quote any estimates.

He said details would not be released until the start of the legislative session.

Although Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds could not attend, Linda Fandel, the governor’s special assistant for education policy, spoke briefly.

Finland, Canada and Singapore all have systems more focused on meeting student needs and their systems should be studied, she said.

Not all in the audience agreed with some of the governor’s thoughts.

Jason Enke, UniServ Unit 2 Director of the Iowa State Education Association, said comparisons to other countries are faulty, since they seldom take into account societal differences between the U.S. and other countries.

But Branstad did not agree.

“I think we’ve just been too complacent,” and achievement has not moved forward.

Belmond Mayor Al Mattison suggested using retired teachers to enrich classrooms, many of whom have advanced degrees.

Elementary Principal Mike Thompson said he hoped any plan could be debated on its merits, not on partisanship.

Branstad’s meeting echoed similar reform gatherings held last year.

Several items in his 2012 reform package — online learning, teacher evaluation, third-grade retention for poor readers among them — failed to survive the session intact.

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