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Iowa schools must improve

By Staff | Aug 12, 2011

There was a time – not so long ago – when Iowa led the nation in terms of the quality of its educational system. Sadly, even though there are many fine schools in the Hawkeye State, education here has been outpaced by innovative programs elsewhere in the nation and is in danger of slipping further behind.

That is the disturbing finding of a report – “Rising to Greatness: An Imperative for Improving Iowa’s Schools” – issued recently by the Iowa Department of Education.

“Iowa’s education system is in need of a major remodel,” a statement about the report released July 21 by the department concludes. “Students are missing the mark in math and reading competency while their counterparts in other states have made significant gains.”

That makes the education summit held July 25 and 26 in Des Moines especially timely. The conference was called by Gov. Terry Branstad to foster a dialogue about returning Iowa’s schools to the top ranks of educational excellence. The governor has indicated that he plans to make education reform a key priority when the Legislature reconvenes next year. Doing so deserves strong bipartisan support.

Remarks at the summit on July 26 by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan reinforced the report’s conclusion that Iowans need to act aggressively if the state is to reclaim its now-eclipsed status as an educational trendsetter. He told the 1,700 people in attendance the time when Iowans could be certain that their educational institutions were producing results as good or better as anywhere was now just a memory.”

Here are some highlights from the Education Department’s sobering report that underline why the secretary, governor and a host of others who have pondered the status of education in Iowa say new approaches are required urgently:

  • “In 1992, no state scored higher than Iowa on the (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in fourth-grade reading. By 2009, however, 13 states scored significantly higher than Iowa.
  • “From 1992 to 2009, Iowa’s eighth-grade NAEP mathematics scores fell from the top in the nation to average.
  • “Only 29 percent of Iowa eighth-grade students who took the NAEP in 2009 were enrolled in Algebra I or another higher-level mathematics course. Students in only three states recorded lower enrollment.
  • “Despite Iowa’s above-average scores on the ACT college entrance exam, the percentage of test-takers who met all four ACT benchmarks showing they are ready for college was 30 percent in 2010.
  • “Iowa tied for the 16th lowest percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree (25.1 percent) in 2009, according to a national comparison.”

Having a first-rate educational system is important to the economic future of our state. A work force with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century is absolutely essential. With that in mind, Branstad issued an executive order July 26 creating the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council. The goal is to develop a game plan for improving the way these key fields are taught in Iowa.

That’s a good first step. If this state can boast workers whose skills in these areas surpass what is available elsewhere, employers will find investment here irresistible.

Farm News applauds the Department of Education for producing a thought-provoking study. In convening the education summit, the governor has helped advance the hard work of ensuing that educational excellence will be a priority matter in Iowa.

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