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Branstad’s new education chief says reform starts with teachers
URBANDALE — Jason Glass, the newly appointed director of Iowa’s Department of Education, says some people might describe him as a “reformer” in a derogatory way.
“We have to take bold and dramatic steps to increase the effectiveness of educators,” Glass said at a press conference Wednesday. “We must pressure the system in every way we can, from teacher preparation programs, to hiring and selection, to induction and on-going support, to mentoring in professional growth, to innovative compensation practices, to selective retention and through preparing and providing bold and supportive leadership in every Iowa school.”
Gov.-elect Terry Branstad made the announcement of his choice by declaring that Glass would help lead an “aggressive reform effort.”
Some of what Glass described as high priorities includes lifting restrictions on both charter schools and public schools to encourage innovation, and incorporate more technology in classrooms. He also said the state will need to increase efforts to attract top educators in needy positions like math, science and special education, perhaps by financial compensation.
As Branstad pointed out, education receives about two-thirds of the general budget. It was predicted at the news conference a “stormy” appropriation season was ahead, but Branstad said he intended to provide “predictability” and would be careful not to over-promise to schools.
Glass also has strong opinions about teacher tenure. He is currently senior director for human capital strategy at Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit consulting agency in Columbus, Ohio. One of the group’s partners is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose founder, billionaire Bill Gates, has argued for dramatic changes in the way schools are evaluated. He specifically took aim at teacher tenure in a recent Newsweek article.
In most states, pay and promotion of teachers are connected 100 percent to seniority. This is contrary to everything the world’s second-richest man believes about business: “Is there any other part of the economy where someone says, ‘Hey, how long have you been mowing lawns? … I want to pay you more for that reason alone.’ ” Gates favors a system where pay and promotion are determined not just by improvement in student test scores (an idea savaged by teachers’ unions) but by peer surveys, student feedback (surprisingly predictive of success in the classroom), video reviews, and evaluation by superiors. In this approach, seniority could be a factor, but not the only factor.
“I think everybody would agree that the way we have approached tenure has led to some problems,” Glass said Wednesday. “However, I don’t think our whole reform strategy needs to be based on firing people.”
Glass was much more emphatic in April while responding to a blog post critical of a Newsweek article on education reform. He said the question isn’t whether teacher tenure is failing, but rather what the process to remove “bad” teachers will look like.
“To be as direct as I can, I completely support the statement ‘We Must Fire Bad Teachers,’” Glass said. “If it is indeed the case that the teacher is the most powerful influence we have on changing the lives of our nation’s children (and our nation), how can we not fire bad teachers — and how can anyone argue that we should allow ‘bad’ teachers to continue to teach?”
Glass was the director of human resources for the Eagle County, Colo., school district when teacher pay policies were shifted to performance-based rewards instead of seniority-based rewards.
State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames who will chair the Senate Education Committee, said since the search was kept secret he knew little of Glass’s background to base any judgment.
“Lessons learned in other places in the country, you have be very careful about applying those in Iowa. We don’t have a lot of the problems other areas of the country have,” Quirmbach told The Iowa Independent after Glass spoke.
But Quirmbach did say it’s a positive that Glass is setting high goals and aiming for improvement.
The role of director of the Department of Education had been officially vacant since Judy Jeffrey retired in May 2010. Kevin Fangman, a department administrator, has been the interim director. Unlike previous Iowans who served as director, Glass has not been a superintendent and comes from out of state.
Branstad claimed Glass will bring a fresh perspective needed to shake things up.
“I think there’s a realization that our achievement scores have not kept up with where they should be,” Branstad said. “We want to get back into first place.”
Glass will arrive in Des Moines to assume his role, with three of the Capital City’s five public high schools having recently replaced their principals in one year. The state has also been rated by the Project on Student Debt as a leader nationally in terms of collegiate student debt.
The incoming director admitted he had not studied Iowa’s situation extensively yet, and questioned what his department could do to handle the student debt explosion, given the circumstances.
“We face a fiscal crisis in the next few years, so I’m not sure if government can solve that problem,” Glass told the Iowa Independent. “I think the real answer — in the long term — is how do we spur economic growth to create jobs so students can repay debt through that.
“I’m really interested in how we could use some loan forgiveness programs, particularly for people who go into public service,” he added, suggesting it as another possible way to entice new teachers into the fields of math, science and special education.
Glass said the top performing education systems in the world recruit their teachers from the top quarter of college graduates
“In the United States, we recruit our teachers out of the bottom 28 percent of college graduates,” he said.
Glass believes using tuition assistance and loan forgiveness programs in Iowa could help offset that trend.
During the campaign, Branstad expressed admiration for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has become known for his rocky relationship with the teachers union. But Branstad dismissed the idea he would face the same situation in Iowa, citing experience in his previous terms working with the education community.