Education reform package clears legislature, headed to governor’s desk

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May 9th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

An education reform plan has cleared the legislature. Crafters of the compromise suggest the bill’s focus on literacy in the early elementary grades is the hallmark of the package. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, was the senate’s lead negotiator. “Under the bill we will annually be assessing the reading proficiency of kindergarteners, first graders, second graders and third graders, so that if any kid is falling behind in reading proficiency, we will find out about that as soon as possible,” Quirmbach says. Republican Governor Terry Branstad recommended that all third graders who cannot read at grade level be required to repeat the grade. Legislators have voted instead to give parents two options if their child completes third grade, but cannot read at a third grade level.

“Either the child goes through an intensive summer reading program that summer after third grade or they repeat third grade,” Quirmbach says. “The parent must make that decision.” The threat of having poor readers repeating third grade won’t kick in until the 2016/2017 school year, however. Representative Royd Chambers, a Republican from Sheldon, was the lead negotiator for the House. “It’s not as strong of a reform bill as I would like, but this is what we could come up with,” Chambers says. “But I still believe it’s a very substantive bill.” The bill limits enrollment in the two Iowa school districts that are conducting all classes on the Internet and calls for a study of such on-line academies. It means CAM Schools in Anita and Clayton Ridge in Guttenberg will have no more than nine-hundred students. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, says it gives state policymakers time to review how on-line academies are working, or having difficulties, in other states.

“I am glad we’re putting some limits on on-line learning,” Mascher says. “I was extremely concerned about opening this up in a way that would have allowed many, many students to participate without have the quality control in place.” Legislators also decided against having all 11th graders take the A-C-T and rejected the governor’s call to require all college students seeking a teaching degree maintain a three-point grade average. Republican-led efforts to end the “last hired, first fired” aspect of schoolhouse layoffs were unsuccessful. Governor Branstad has said he wants the 2013 Iowa legislature to tackle teacher pay issues and consider other education reform ideas.

(O. Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)