Disclaimer: written on a plane in less than ideal conditions for my muse. Be kind.
I've now had a chance to read both the legislative brief shared by the Department of Education (DE) and the Governor's Ed bill. I think it's no secret that I didn't appreciate the way in which it was delivered, but I have to say that I'm mostly comfortable with the content, especially to the extent that it serves as a starting point for actually getting something done this year.
The bill isn't transformative, but does propose work that is likely beneficial and will not necessarily limit transformational work that needs to happen simultaneously -- if the details are handled carefully. I'm beginning to think I will be eternally frustrated that the heavy lifting of transformation has to land on the shoulders of isolated educators, schools, and districts. Please prove me wrong. I would be thrilled if we could get support for a systemic way of growing, studying, and sharing innovations within Iowa's education system. I understand the value of replicating what's already proven, but we'll never figure out new things that work if we don't have a way of exploring and studying them. There are certainly models to guide such efforts. I promise to share some actionable ideas soon.
I am disappointed by what I see as a glaring omission I hope our legislative allies will address by further supporting the momentum building in support of competency based education (CBE). As a member of the legislatively-mandated task force on competency based education, it has become clear to me that support within the Department of Education for CBE on a large scale is limited. I understand the reasoning behind that position, so I would suggest that the legislature act to support and fund necessary research and development work related to CBE outside of the the scope of the DE if necessary.
Overall, this year's proposal responds to some major issues raised during last year's process. Specifically:
There is a much more detailed and collaboratively-developed description of the teacher career pathways section.
This year's proposal is funded - with just one nudge toward reallocation of existing professional development funds.
Certainly developing Iowa's own online education system is the right way to meet the growing need for Iowa's students. Everything I know about ILO builds my faith that we can develop high quality learning experiences for students in blended and virtual environments. I would respectfully suggest that the powerful and related work of the IACoPi project be supported and developed in tandem.
Overall, I am optimistic about the parts of the proposal related to Promise diploma seals, as I value an outcomes-based system. At the same time, I urge caution in the details to ensure that the necessary approximations for learning are worthy approximations. History has taught me to be skeptical of our ability to identify and use data and assessments appropriately. I also urge caution in the development of details to ensure that necessary parallel work toward CBE is not hampered. For instance, we need to be careful when using constructs such as courses and credits into the future, as CBE will make many of them obsolete. If we allow future work to be grounded in fleeting constructs, we will inevitably limit innovation.
Coming to the proposal from the context of my own district, I feel confident we could do great things within a system of career pathways. The very best growth opportunities for our teachers are in meaningful collaboration with each other. We have talented teachers who have much to offer their colleagues. In our current model, we have a de facto system of lead, mentor, and master teachers that unfairly burdens our teachers by adding extra work to their already full workloads. We need them in these roles, but currently have no system for recognizing or compensating them.
I just have one concern related to the evaluation portions of the bill - the buck seems to stop at the desk of the Director far too often for my comfort. While positions may stay the same, the people who occupy those positions change. I recognize that too much bureaucracy gets in the way of progress, but I urge balance that leverages more collaborative decision making and some necessary checks and balances in this context.
I would expect no less than rigorous questioning and robust debate on the details of this bill (which I'm confident our political process will deliver), but my highest hope is that we not waste another year in this important work of transforming our K-12 system. While my strong preference would be an entire system redesign (which this proposal clearly is not), we can't let the pursuit of perfect prevent us from acting at all. Identify the big issues, address them, and then get something passed. Please.