Iowa Gov. Branstad still supportive of statewide educational standards

"We're going to focus on things that improve achievement in Iowa”

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad reiterated his support for statewide educational standards Tuesday, even as some in his party call for the abolishment of the Iowa Department of Education.

“We’re going to continue to work with people on this,” Branstad said Tuesday, during his weekly news conference where he was joined by Department of Education Director Brad Buck.

“I want to make it clear Iowa was the last state in the nation to establish state standards for education,” Branstad said. “In the meantime, we fell from top in student achievement to the middle of the pack. We since adopted the Iowa Core.”

The governor’s comments came shortly after a meeting of the Polk County Republican Party Conservative Breakfast where state Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, boasted about a bill he planned to introduce this session.

“It’s a bill to shut down the Department of Education and give the school boards 100 percent control of what they do,” Zaun told the crowd. “Every day up at the Capitol, we tie (the) hands of our school boards. Those people are accountable. They know what’s best for their communities.”

Informed of Zaun’s comments, the governor chuckled.

“In Washington, D.C., I might agree with some of that, but I don’t agree with that here in Iowa,” he said. “I think we have a different system, and we’re trying to make sure we have something that meets the needs of Iowans that sets state standards but gives local control to putting together their own curriculum to meet the needs of the students in the individual school districts.”

Education standards have become an increasingly volatile political topic across the country as national testing consortiums get closer to rolling out standardized tests aligned to the Common Core.

The Common Core is an effort by the National Governor’s Association to develop an educational baseline for all 50 states. The Iowa Core is a state-specific set of standards that has to be fully implemented by the end of the 2015 school year.

Iowa is a governing state in one of the Common Core testing consortiums, called Smarter Balanced, but Branstad stressed it doesn’t mean he favors a national exam.

He said he’s “tried to make it extremely clear that Iowa has our own standards, and we’re going to focus on things that improve achievement in Iowa.”

Buck, meanwhile, said a task force will make a recommendation on what test Iowa students should take as early as this fall.

He also said schools that have applied to start new teacher leadership and pay scales should know by the first week in March if they made the cut.

The program was the centerpiece of the 2013 education reform with the promise it would provide school districts an additional roughly $309 per student, per year to develop new career paths and pay models for teachers.

Every school district is expected to be part of the system at the conclusion of the three-year rollout.

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