Education reform means building on strengths, focusing on real problems

Senator Herman Quirmbach

August 2, 2012 – An education summit is a great opportunity for Iowans to plan how to build on the good things happening on Iowa schools and to develop reform strategies focused on real problems in our classrooms, a key senator said today.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said many of his Democratic and Republican colleagues share Governor Branstad’s three major goals for improving Iowa schools:  raising academic standards; increasing teacher and school administrator effectiveness; and implementing innovation that increases learning.

“That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad Governor Branstad is sponsoring another education summit.  Last year’s summit strongly validated the educational decision by Senate Democrats to insist on retaining universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds against Republican efforts to reduce or eliminate the program.  That summit also highlighted the importance of providing more time for teacher collaboration, a concept we successfully incorporated in Senate File 2284, the bipartisan education reform bill we passed this year.  Let’s hope this summit can be as productive as last year’s,” Quirmbach said.

At the same time, Quirmbach expressed concerns about comments by Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, who recently said larger class sizes may be needed to free up funding for his education reform proposals. 

“Governor Branstad should remember a key principle from his days as president of a medical college:  first, do no harm,” Quirmbach said. “While there are many suggestions on how to improve our schools, almost everyone agrees that stuffing more students into each classroom is more likely to harm, rather than improve, student achievement.  Crowded classrooms make it harder for teachers to give students the one-on-one attention they need.  Crowded classrooms are less likely to attract and retain the best teachers.”

In 1999, Governor Vilsack began a successful effort to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.  As a result, Iowa teachers gained more time to focus on the individual needs of young students learning to read and write. 

Those gains have been threatened in recent years by lack of adequate general funding.  For example, Governor Branstad refused to approve any allowable-growth increase for K-12 for the 2011-2012 school year, and the Republican House this year similarly refused to approve any increase for 2013-2014.  Now Glass is actually proposing to cut the moneys specifically targeted at class-size reduction.

“Discussing innovative ideas for more effective teaching and learning is great, but if Branstad and Glass want to implement reforms that will cost more money, they have to be willing to step up and put new resources on the table,” Senator Quirmbach added. “Hollowing out successful existing programs is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’  That approach is as likely to move Iowa backwards as forwards.”


Posted Aug. 2nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm by