Don't rush to meager reform

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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While State Department of Education Director Jason Glass was comparing ACT scores with a standardized testing skeptic last week, state legislators struggled to find common ground on education reform.

It was a week full of talk and little action: Glass’s competition with University of Kentucky professor Scott McLeod didn’t prove much, and the sticking points of legislation didn’t move much.

And as the legislative session winds to a close, we can’t help but think that pushing through at this late date a mishmash of proposals that have survived would be a lot like the ACT stunt — a bunch of time spent for little gain.

There’s little question that we’ve got to make big changes to our school system if we want to prepare our youth for college and 21st century careers.

But better to hold off and try again next year instead of passing half measures that don’t move us ahead.

Glass squared off with McLeod after the college professor challenged state leaders to take the ACT or SAT themselves, if they wanted to force all of Iowa’s high school juniors to take the exams.

Glass earned a composite score of 27 out of 36 possible points, McLeod beat him with a 34. Neither changed their minds, or likely any others, about the potential value of making the test mandatory for Iowa high schoolers. We’re still scratching our heads about what lesson we’re supposed to take from the stunt.

We’re also having a tough time understanding how what’s left on the legislative table is supposed to transform Iowa schools.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats are in a standoff over class sizes, core subjects, third-grade retention, online education and end-of-course exams.

They’re likely headed to a House-Senate conference committee in a last-ditch effort to try to find middle ground before they turn out the lights on this year’s session sometime next week. We don’t see justification to rush a bill.

Most of the boldest proposals have been cut from or never made it into the reform bill. Any compromise is going to be a far cry from Gov. Terry Branstad’s ambitious reform plans laid out a year ago.

At least the stage for reform has been set. Iowans are talking more now about school reform. They have a better idea of the issues, challenges and possibilities. That’s good work in itself.

Rather than rushing through patchwork legislation that won’t lead to meaningful change in Iowa schools, legislators should leave the conversation open for now.

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