Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Iowa: One Unshakable Vision

Earlier this week, the governor and lieutenant governor of Iowa released their blueprint for major education reforms in the state. The report puts forth state policy changes in 16 wide-ranging areas, including teacher recruitment, effectiveness and evaluation, school accountability, and third-grade literacy, among others. Some of the recommendations are relatively common approaches nationally (creating a teacher scholarship program to recruit math and science teachers), while others appear to be quite unique and promising—and a shift away from local control in a traditionally local-control state. Just a sampling of these unique and promising recommendations below:

Attracting and Supporting Talented Educators
• Have teacher candidates demonstrate evidence of perseverance and leadership as part of their entry into teacher-education programs
• Newly created teacher mentors in all schools will serve as adjunct college and university faculty in supervising student-teaching, effectively opening student-teaching for any school in the state.

Improved Educator Recruiting and Hiring Practices
• Check all teacher applicants for the right personality, characteristics, and skills needed to be a great teacher.

Creating Educator Leadership Roles
(The first two could be challenging in a rural state where school size and staffing are often "small," but states such as Alaska have developed coaching models that help accommodate for such rural challenges.)
• Establish Mentor teachers in every building in the state to coach student-teachers, new teachers, and veteran teachers toward improvement
• Establish Master teachers in every building in the state to help in peer evaluation and to serve as instructional leaders along with principals
• Create Apprentice principals who receive coaching and other training from more experienced leadership from districts and Area Education Agencies
• Establish Mentor principals who would help coach Apprentice principals.

Free Principals to Lead
• Expand the School Administration Manager (SAM) training program statewide. SAMs take care of managerial tasks, such as budgeting, accounting and attendance to free up principals to get out into classrooms where they can lead and support great teaching.

There are more unique components—but more than can be addressed in a single blog post. Needless to say, while it will be exciting to see how the recommendations take shape in policy, the devil is always in the details. What sounds great on paper may be difficult to implement, or in the case of mentor teachers and principals, apprentice principals and master teachers, will hinge on the quality of and support provided to the staff willing to take on these additional assignments.

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