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Statewide symposium examines teacher reform

Gov. Terry Branstad wants to “professionalize” the teaching ranks in his 2013 education reform proposal.

Fifth grade teacher Jenny Cooper answers questions from students during class at Garfield Elementary School in Cedar Rapids.(Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Fifth grade teacher Jenny Cooper answers questions from students during class at Garfield Elementary School in Cedar Rapids.(Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — About two-thirds of the way through the daylong education summit on teacher leadership Friday, the audience voted to fire a teacher.

It was a hypothetical teacher, a Ms. Right from ABC High School in Ohio, whose evaluation was put on an overhead by a panel of educators from Toledo, Ohio.

The vote to fire Right was made by a show of hands from the audience of roughly 700.

“Can I just ask what’s going to happen to her? Is she done?” a woman shouted from the audience.

“She’s done, she’s gone,” replied Dal Lawrence, past president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. “We’re changing the culture here. In 31 years, we’ve fired, let go, whatever you want to call it, about 400 teachers. About 100 of them with tenure, and it’s the most popular thing we do with the teachers.”

The exchange exemplified what Gov. Terry Branstad says is his effort to “professionalize” the teaching ranks in his 2013 education reform proposal.

“It makes sense to pay more to teachers who work a longer year, who teach harder subjects and take hard-to-fill jobs,” Branstad said in his introductory remarks at the symposium at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium.

The forum, which served as sort of a kickoff to the governor’s 2013 education reform plan, included the Toledo group, a panel from Des Moines, one from Cedar Rapids as well as national, state and local education policymakers and professionals.

It follows on the heels of the governor’s 2012 education reform package that initially included a proposed four-tiered system of apprentice, journeyman, mentor and master teachers with pay scales that reflected the new titles and responsibilities. It was removed before the package was sent to the General Assembly.

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Branstad said he pulled the proposal because it needed more discussion. Instead, he went forward with other proposals that met with little success at the legislative level.

The specifics of the governor’s proposal for this year have not been released.

“There isn’t a year I’ve been in education that there hasn’t been talk of reform,” Susan Lagos Lavenz, associate dean and director of the Teacher Leader Center at the University of Iowa, told the crowd during a panel discussion about the future of teaching. “But I feel differently about this one. There seems to be optimism here.”

Her observation drew knowing nods from the audience, which included Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, ranking member on the House Education Committee and a retired teacher. She thinks there is support from both parties to

“Last year, they just threw (education reform) out there, and you saw how well that worked,” she said. “One of the important points that I think was made is how they treat teachers in other countries. They expect a lot from them, and they hold them accountable but respect them as professionals.”

Steckman was particularly interested in the thought of a master teacher, which is an instructor who teaches teachers and students.

Related: Cedar Rapids education leaders discuss salary schedule

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