Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A New Direction for Iowa

On December 29, governor-elect Terry Branstad introduced all of us to our new director of the Department of Education, Jason Glass. Glass is a young man that has travelled on the express elevator to the top of educational leadership and brings with him a very interesting resume. I have always been skeptical of individuals who profess to have the answers to complex educational issues who have not spent years in the trenches, but then again, there are no criteria for leadership entitled Years Served. Glass has expressed ideas that are common among some folks involved in the school reform movement, and like anything that is as politically charged as education, he has those who agree and disagree with his positions. I for one have believed in a merit pay system for a long time. I agree that the best teachers should earn more than those who do not perform as well. My opinions differ from many, as I do not believe that the balance of that judgment should be based on the test scores of their students. Certainly student performance should be a factor, but until someone comes up with a better measure of that than what I have seen, I am not sold on the examples that have been floated out there.

I would encourage Mr. Glass to spend some time looking at what we have in Iowa. In one of the first interviews I read, he made some critical comments, and expressed some plans that I believe he should have held back so early on. Of course the politician that appointed him has given him background, but I have to believe that he is also smart enough to take a look at what is actually happening in Iowa schools. For instance, the teacher evaluation system we have is a lot more than a quick run through the classroom and a check form. He stated in his interview that is was something that an administrator only spent twenty to thirty minutes on. That changed about six years ago when Iowa adopted a new teacher evaluation system. Perhaps not all principals are doing it with integrity, but I can tell you that I spend hours each year on a teacher’s evaluation, not just twenty minutes. And, I have seen teachers improve because of evaluation.

The Iowa Core Curriculum is another matter that I hope he looks at closely. The Republicans right now have a bill drafted to cut funding for it and to get rid of all of the work that has been done. Talk about a waste of time! Thousands of Iowa educators have been working on this process the past few years and just when we are approaching implementation, the new folks in town want to dump it. Please Mr. Glass, take a look at what it is first. After all, in math and reading, the Iowa Core is the same as the national standards. In fact, it goes beyond the national standards! My hope is that the good that is in the Iowa Core will be saved, but more importantly, let us move forward!

Having not yet met Mr. Glass, I have not developed an opinion of how effectively he will lead our educational system. I do know that we must get better in Iowa. I myself have been frustrated at the glacial speed of some changes, but what we need is someone that is going to articulate the need for change to the individuals of this state. The is a strongly held believe among Iowans that “school was good enough for me when I was a kid, what’s wrong with it now?” The black and white television was good enough in the 1950’s, but it most certainly is not good enough now.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Khan Academy on the Gates Notes

At the start of the current school year, I had the high school staff bring their laptop computers to our faculty meeting and share with them an online site called Khan Academy. My purpose was to introduce them to lessons that could be used as tutorials for students, and supplements for instruction. The vast majority of over 1800 lessons are for math. Take a few minutes and browse through some of them at khanacademy.org, but first, take a look at the video that I have included to get a little better perspective of what you are going to see.