Iowa examines slate of education reforms, seeks No Child waiver

Lawmakers are examining changes to the education system in Iowa. Yesterday the state joined a group of states seeking waivers from the federal government to opt out of some of the requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act. Teacher evaluations have also been scrapped from the Governor’s education plan and replaced with evaluations that include peer reviews.

Since the waiver program was announced by the Obama administration more than half of states have applied to opt-out of several provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Iowa applied for the waiver noting that the federal accountability system imposed by No Child Left Behind was more focused on failing urban centers, and left out rural schools which accounts for many of the schools in Iowa.

The Act also requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a goal which many educators have said is unrealistic given the current system and resource constraints.

The state also plans to change the way it conducts teacher evaluations. Current state and federal laws require a formal evaluation be completed every three years. The state will preserve that requirement but also implement peer reviews in the years between formal evaluations.

The changes are viewed as a compromise as many parents and state officials have called for yearly teacher evaluations but school administrators have noted that the amount of time and resources involved in conducting yearly formal evaluations would have an adverse impact on already strained education budgets. The peer reviews will not be recognized as formal evaluations but officials hope that they will improve overall teacher quality and development on a slightly faster time line than a performance review that only happens every three years.

All of these measures will have to be approved by the state legislature. Education funding is currently being debated, with Republican lawmakers slashing a $17 million proposal for more funding from the Governor. If that is allowed to stand any new reforms passed will go unfunded in this cycle.

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