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After being involved in Iowa's Education Summit, education reform is coming. Themes emerged at the summit: merit-based pay for teachers, broader laws for charter school formation and innovation. The first two are all based in policy and legislation, and I expect there will be great times of debate ahead.
It is the third theme that stuck with me the most. While “innovation” as a concept is perplexing because there was no strong direction for what it means for education, it is that actual lack of clarification that gives me the most hope as a school board member. Of course, we always want to be innovative and reaching to challenge our students.
There was a comment made that resonated with me during the entire summit: “Instead of the current system of time and place being the constant, they should be the variables, and learning needs to be the constant.”
What this meant to me is if we really want to think and plan strategically for education, it is going to be important to start with where we want it to be. Far too often we start with where we are and plan for what we think we can do within that system. This is our time to think big, have dialogues with all education stakeholders and build collaborations that will work to create meaningful change that improves our educational system. I think innovation includes alternative school calendars, alternative school hours, focusing on how we produce a workforce that is globally prepared and moving beyond standardized tests as our measurement for success.
Early childhood education, specifically universal preschool, is an investment that must be made in Iowa. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged Iowa by saying: “Budgets reflect values, education is an investment - not an expense.”
It is clear that tough budget times are going stay and we will all need to make difficult choices but those choices should not be whether or not we are preparing our children for the future. We should be doing all that we can and put funding behind increasing school readiness for all students to reduce early learning gaps, supporting 3- and 4-year-olds to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills and supporting working families so that educational attainment is not one of the challenges that they have to continue to face.
It seems that all we talk about recently is budgets and the conversations have stopped including teaching and learning. The Iowa City school district, like others, faces budget challenges while trying to measure up to educational mandates. But we have to shift the focus back to achievement and be creative in how we provide the necessary tools for teachers.
Professional development is essential to providing teachers what they need. We have to have a culture that supports everyone in the district to continue to learn, including adult learners. That culture must include high-quality professional development, grade-level collaboration for developing strategies and differentiated support to meet needs of all teachers.
It is time we return our focus to education.
Patti Fields, of Iowa City, has served on the Iowa City school board for six years. She is a parent of two children in the district and is the vice president for Community Impact and Engagement at the United Way of Johnson County. Comments: email@example.com
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