Jason Glass, Iowa Department of Education executive director, discussed the state's blueprint for education reform at St. Edmond Catholic School's Parent University Wednesday.
The forum, hosted by St. Edmond, is meant to be a "public service," Dr. Tim Barry, St. Edmond president, said.
"Education in Iowa and educational reform is a larger issue that effects not only St. Edmond, but schools throughout the state in Iowa," he said.
Glass said this was an "incredibly exciting time to be working on education in Iowa."
"We have an exciting conversation going on statewide about what we can do to improve our schools," he said.
Glass spoke about the 18-page blueprint for state education reform released in October, containing possible ways to improve Iowa schools. The blueprint is not legislation. Glass has been touring the state soliciting responses to the blueprint and ideas on improving the school system.
"I think our greatest hope was that we created a discussion, a dialogue, some excitement, and I think we succeeded," he said.
In approaching reform, the state Education Department is looking to high-performing organizations and systems around the world, Glass said, and seeing, in context, what Iowa is doing right and what it can learn.
"It takes purpose, it takes focus, it takes dedication, sometimes for a decade or longer, to accomplish that goal," he said. "There has to be a beginning to that effort."
Glass said Iowa needs a system that is beyond politics and any single election.
"It's so important that we find a set of policies that we can stand behind for a decade or longer that it will take to move our school systems toward being able to outperform the systems of the world," he said. "Our schools deserve that, and our kids deserve that. There's no morally acceptable other answer."
The blueprint focuses on three areas. The first is "great teachers and leaders," as the majority of school funding goes toward teachers and benefits.
"It is a heavily human being driven endeavor," Glass said. "It means we're putting a person in charge of doing that work. The success or failure of the effort depends on the talents and abilities and passion of that person. We have to think about how we can get the best possible people into those positions."
The second area is "high expectations and fair measures," involving updating and improving measuring achievement, moving away from "pencil and paper" testing, mandatory ACT testing for 11th-grade students, and a third-grade reading retention program.
The third area involves "innovation," Glass said.
"We learn from many high performing organization or system that they don't stand still," he said. "
The audience of more than one hundred asked few questions directly regarding the blueprint, but asked more about government spending and accountability.
One person asked why schools don't rely more on Khan Academy, an online series of school lessons, in place of teachers. Glass responded that digital learning in general has been considered and holds some promise.
"You don't want to just turn your entire education system to an online format," he said. "The evidence doesn't support that that's the best approach. But it does work for some kids."
Another audience member argued that tax dollars were being wasted on funding the administration of smaller schools.
"At this point, we wanted the stated to be focused on the policy issue," Glass responded. "When you start tinkering with things that have long-term high cost issues with them, you need to be very thoughtful in how you implement them."
Glass added that when the bill goes to legislation it will include a detailed cost estimate.
Contact Brandon L.
Summers at (515) 573-2141