The Iowa Journal #214 World Class Schools Original Air Date: January 29, 2009 Iowa Public Television Paul Yeager: What can we learn from the education systems of other countries? Can it be applied to Iowa schools? We'll take up that matter and a look behind the week's headlines, next. Funding for The Iowa Journal has been provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation, generations of families and friends who feel passionate about Iowa Public Television programs. And by ... MidAmerican Energy Company, helping to harness renewable sources of electricity through their investment in wind power. Information is available at midamericanenergy.com. MidAmerican Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service. From river to river, border to border this is The Iowa Journal. Here is Paul Yeager. Paul Yeager: Hello and welcome to The Iowa Journal. Education has been a long held value in Iowa. But an era of "all of our children are above average" may be closing. It seems the rest of the world has pulled ahead of the U.S. and Iowa. We'll examine why that is and what can be done about it in a bit. Certainly education remains a priority, even at a time when state government is bracing for significant cuts to its budget. In total the cuts proposed by the Governor for next fiscal year amount to a reduction of about 1.4% from the current year's budget. But the fiscal diet means most state budgets will need to reduce anticipated expenditures next year by 6.5%. Also contained in the budget is a bonding proposal that would finance an ambitious building program. Governor Chet Culver: So I believe we need to take bold action now to do something about this recession. Towards that end I have proposed the creation of the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Authority. The Rebuild Iowa Authority would issue $700 million in bonds, paid with existing gaming revenue. We've earned a AAA bond rating, interest rates are at near record low and our state has one of the lowest debt levels of any state in the nation. In fact, we're ranked 48th in the nation when it comes to our public debt per capita. If we doubled our current debt amount we would still be ranked 48th. When fully leveraged this $700 million investment will lead to billions of dollars of projects to improve our state, to rebuild our flood-affected areas and create thousands of new jobs. So, while we're cutting back on the day-to-day expenditures of state government, we must be investing in bricks and mortar to create jobs, support businesses and keep our economy going. Paul Yeager: Those are comments made by the Governor yesterday in Des Moines at a press conference. David Pitt of the Associated Press is with us to help examine these proposals as well as some private sector trends. So, David first let's start with this bonding proposal idea. Do you think there will be any takers on buying the state of Iowa bonds? David Pitt: I think so. As the Governor said the state has a good bond rating, it means our tax exempt bonds people are looking for safe places to put their money and these types of bonds, revenue bonds pay typically more than U.S. Treasury bonds so there is probably going to be a market for them. Paul Yeager: So, there's not any question of if but it's a matter of when and it's a matter of how quickly we need to move forward. We know that these are going to sell, we think they're going to go quickly. That is good news to Iowans. Will they be bought by Iowans? Are they going to be bought by somebody out of state, out of country? David Pitt: Well, my guess is that they will be investors in general who are looking for these types of investments so it could be a combination of anybody. Paul Yeager: Let's actually have some bright economic news if we can. There are companies coming to Iowa -- IBM was announced in Dubuque last week -- there are other indicators, things are looking up in some parts, where is that? David Pitt: Well, I think if you look in general the state according to December figures that were released has the 6th lowest unemployment rate in the country still under 5%, we're at 4.6% right now. There are a few states that have peaked over 10% so to give you kind of a relative idea of where we stand our unemployment rate generally is lower than other states and we do have a couple of companies in Iowa that seem to be doing well and seem to be weathering the recession. Wells Fargo, not based here but it has a significant presence in Des Moines, just released its quarterly report and although the quarterly report didn't look so great because it did have to write off a lot of money and investments and it bought Wachovia and had to take some losses from that but they are making loans, the bank is making loans, they are getting new customers and they seem to be weathering the recession as large banks go relatively well. Paul Yeager: And you were on a conference call I think you said earlier this week with Principal. What did you learn from that? David Pitt: Well, Principal is another company that has seen some issues with investments and so they have had to take some losses in the last several quarters but they were making a point in this conference call with analysts and investors that they have a pretty diversified revenue stream. They have operations in other countries and they are growing in their international asset management part of their business so it's a well diversified company and they were making the point that we're here to last through this thing. Paul Yeager: We talked about bonding but there is also an issue that moved through the statehouse on Thursday that would provide for local option sales tax increases specifically for flood relief. Tell me about that bill and what's been behind that. David Pitt: The idea I think it started in eastern Iowa, the Cedar Rapids area, where they're looking for opportunities to raise revenue to try to pay for some of the damage that was done by the flooding. What this bill would do, it's been sent to the Governor now would allow specific counties that have been declared a disaster area to vote on whether or not they want to raise their local taxes by one penny. Those counties and municipalities do not have 7%, which is the state limit now, they could raise their taxes from 6% to 7% if they are at 6% now. There are a few counties that have maxed out already and they wouldn't be able to do it but for a lot of those that have been declared disaster areas they would have that option. Paul Yeager: That will now go to the Governor and we'll find out when that gets signed in a little bit. Also want to talk about what Iowa might see, some of that economic impact of investment. The Governor talked about that a little bit. There are industries, we talked about Principal Financial and Wells Fargo, there's other industries that are looking up in Iowa. What are those? David Pitt: Well, if the Governor's plan goes through obviously it's going to boost construction. I think that is his major proposal is that construction projects could create a number of jobs and he's talking about projects that are really ready to go, they are projects that really just need the money, need the funding and they're ready to hit the road, so to speak, to get the projects underway whether it's bridges, whether it's fixing some damage from flooding. So, that aspect of the economy could I think get rolling relatively quickly and that is the whole idea behind doing it that way. Paul Yeager: There's a company, Terra Industries in Sioux City is doing well, a farm company. David Pitt: Terra Industries is a company that produces fertilizer, it has benefited from the fact that its major input cost, natural gas, has gone down so it's not paying as much for its raw materials. But fertilizer, as any farmer could tell you, costs a lot these days so their profit level has really increased. Paul Yeager: Might see help in the farm economy. David Pitt of the Associated Press, thank you for stopping by The Iowa Journal tonight. David Pitt: You're welcome. Paul Yeager: Well, according to the Program for International Student Assessment, American students in 2006 ranked below average in math and science. The "PISA" results ranked U.S. students as average in reading. In nationally conducted tests the performance of Iowa students has slid from the top ranks. What do these results say about the preparedness of Iowa youth to compete in a knowledge-based global economy? To address that question, the Des Moines Register visited top ranked schools in Finland and Canada as part of the Register's two-year world class schools project. The project aims to help assess what Iowa kids will need and how our schools can help them prepare to compete in a global economy. The Register shared footage of the visits with Iowa Public Television. Linda Lantor Fandel: I'm Linda Lantor Fandel, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Des Moines Register. I'm here with photographer Mary Chind at Meilahti Comprehensive School in Helsinki, Finland. In recent years teenagers in the small northern European country of Finland have topped the international charts in math, science and reading. Kati Schenk: We don't think we're better than anyone else but we just think that we're just like any other student in any other country. Three characteristics of the Finnish education system stand out: careful selection of teachers, a rigorous national curriculum, and a constant commitment to provide help if students begin to stumble. The process to enter the teaching profession is highly selective. Fewer than ten percent of the applicants for the classroom-teacher education program at the University of Helsinki were accepted this school year. All classroom teachers must earn a masters degree. Teachers in Finland say their work is satisfying despite pay that is lower than other affluent nations including the U.S. Martti Mery: Teachers are respected. They are very sort of decent people and they're doing something that is very important. Ilmari Vauras: Since all the teachers have masters degrees they are given more things to decide for themselves but, of course, there's the curriculum that has to be followed, but there's quite a lot of room for improvisation and choices. A national curriculum sets clear learning goals in core subjects as well as religion, ethics, music and others. A bi-lingual teaching program at the Meilahti Primary School involves students learning in both Finnish and Chinese. In addition to Finnish, students are required to learn English and Swedish. The system provides support for students who struggle including special teachers that float between classrooms. Extra pay is given to teachers who provide lessons after school. Jyrki Loima: Parents trust in our education system, teachers trust in the students, headmasters trust in the teachers, central administration trusts in the schools. Schools in Canada also ranked well on international tests. The Des Moines Register visited the western province of Alberta in October of 2008. The Register found a detailed centralized curriculum, well paid teachers with access to professional development, a system that embraces multiculturalism and an ethic of continuous improvement. Andrew Heck: There's definitely a focus that you want to be competitive in the world and you want to be at the same level if not better than other places. Alberta's detailed curriculum promotes consistent educational goals for all students. There is little difference in test scores between schools and relatively few children performing at the lowest levels. Teachers are involved in all aspects of developing and assessing the curriculum. Wes Wintonyk: I like the new math curriculum in that we're no longer just giving the information to the kids and they're just spewing it forth back out. They have to come up with the concepts on their own. I think we're making them think more. Alberta teachers are paid relatively well. On the average they make more than their peers in Finland and in the U.S. Unlike Finland, Alberta teachers are not required to have a masters degree. About nine percent of the students are learning English as a second language, more than double Iowa's four percent. However, at present the system does not have a mandatory foreign language requirement largely due to difficulty in recruiting enough teachers. The system aims to encourage multiculturalism with an eye towards preparing students for 21st century jobs. Lacia Panylyck: They don't think we are anymore a little province in a little country. I think globalization is inevitable just with the technology and everything else that we have. Alberta schools also face challenges including drop our rates, only about 80% of students finish high school within five years of entering grade 10. Class sizes are often too large and the system does not offer universal all-day kindergarten. However, there is an ethic of being forthcoming about weaknesses as well as strengths and a commitment to continuous improvement. Derek Christensen: I don't think by any means we're there, we're still on the journey as well as everyone else. Paul Yeager: The Register also visited high achieving schools in Iowa and Illinois. What can be learned from these high-performing schools? And how can those lessons be applied in Iowa? Linda Lantor Fandel is Deputy Editorial Page Editor for The Des Moines Register and author of the report that you saw in the Register and Judy Jeffrey is Director of the Iowa Department of Education. Ladies, welcome to The Iowa Journal, glad to have you here. So, Judy I want to start with you, what should a student know in a world class education? Judy Jeffrey: We really have outlined that in the core curriculum that has been established for the state of Iowa. We really looked at international and national trends and what was being tested and also what we really think students in a democratic society need to know in order to not only be ready for post- secondary and work but also for life. Paul Yeager: Linda, in what you found and some of the research, how did that match up with what Judy is saying it should be? Linda Lantor Fandel: Well, what they found in Alberta and Finland was three key pieces of world class education -- very talented teachers, a great curriculum and high expectations, both parents for students, students for themselves, etc. And then underlying that was a foundation that includes continuous improvement, catching students early who are struggling and giving teachers a lot of professional development in areas that they felt would help them become better teachers. Paul Yeager: You hit a couple of points here that are very interesting and it's the expectations game. Do we need to raise expectations in this country? Is that a message you thought was in your head when you were writing a lot of these stories. Linda Lantor Fandel: It depends on the school. Yes, generally we need to raise expectations. But we have, I think, Judy would probably agree a lot of unevenness and inconsistency. There are some schools where the expectations are extraordinarily high like Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. There are others where they need to be brought up to a higher level. Paul Yeager: How do you raise expectations? Does that have to start at home or does that start in the school district? Judy Jeffrey: It starts from everywhere. First of all, it has to start with the teachers because students have told me over and over again they will produce what is expected and so if the expectations are high they will deliver. But it also comes from parents, from the community, from the leaders in those school districts so it's very important. That high expectation has a great deal to do with all of it. Paul Yeager: And it's not just students but it's got to be on teachers, it's got to be on the school board, it's got to be on community leaders, business leaders as well. Why is it the business leaders have to play a role or are playing a role in some of these discussions in helping raise expectations? Judy Jeffrey: Well, they absolutely influence a great deal of what happens in our communities and across the state. They carry a great deal of work and expectations for not only their workplace but they are usually very prominent within their own communities and they can change the belief of Iowans about what they really expect out of their education system. Linda Lantor Fandel: And one of the things I've heard from teachers is that they are often not clear on what it is businesses need. You're not just training workers in their classrooms, they know that, but they do need to train people to understand what they have to go out and do when they get to the workforce and so I think there's a bit of a disconnect sometimes and businesses can really play a big role in connecting. Paul Yeager: When did we bring business to the table to be in this discussion? Judy Jeffrey: Well, we had business representatives when we developed the core curriculum. We had higher ed at the table, community colleges, teachers out of the K-12 system so they were all at the table and then we had actually an online survey where people could give their input on an online survey as to the expectations they wanted to see in the core curriculum. Paul Yeager: Let's talk about that core curriculum a little bit more here. How will core curriculum help all Iowa schools? Judy Jeffrey: First of all, there is an absolute goal that every student will attain those essential concepts and skills regardless of the career track they are on. So, there are essential skills developed in what we consider 21st century skills which I think are absolutely the key to changing how we might educate our students in this state and frankly in this country. Paul Yeager: So, what are some of those? Judy Jeffrey: Well, we have essential concepts and skills in financial literacy, in civic literacy, health literacy, employability and technological literacy and those are all skills that really talk about the communication of students, the problem solving of students and their ability to work with others and those are crucial skills in today's world. Paul Yeager: I went to an Iowa high school and elementary school and I don't remember any of those subjects being offered and it wasn't that long ago. Why or how are you going to wedge these into English and calculus and physics and geometry? Judy Jeffrey: Well, that is absolutely our challenge ahead of us and we have to look beyond just those normal courses and really look I think beyond the school doors, look into extracurricular activities, clubs so we have to expand our scope of where do we really teach students and where do we have all of our expectations that are comprehensive across the board. Paul Yeager: You mentioned athletics and activities and Linda that was something from one of your articles about Finland where they have very few, if any, high schools that have sports. It's mostly a club atmosphere. How has that changed the perspective of what they do in the classroom or how a school approaches learning? Linda Lantor Fandel: Well, where the change is, is that students don't leave early to go to an athletic event in a town an hour and a half away. So, the focus in the school day is very much on academics all day long. At the high school I visited, for example, it starts at 8:00 and goes until 4:00, 75 minute class periods with 15 minute breaks in between but the focus is very academic. And you're right, there are club sports and then there are a few high schools that have specialized sports focuses but otherwise kids don't do things after school connected to school. On the other hand in Alberta they do, it's almost identical to what we do here. Paul Yeager: There was a shot I saw of a volleyball practice so they have it but there's also good life skills. We would think that athletics and speech and drama, those all play very important life skills and you don't want to give those up, right? Judy Jeffrey: Right, there's quite a bit of research about the fact that when students really cooperate on a team and communicate in many of those activities that those are skills that carry over and are definite life skills. So, what our aim is to really not do away with sports or extracurricular activities but really have everyone focused on those expectations that we have for our students and everyone contributing so that students can really demonstrate the skills that we're expecting. Paul Yeager: Do we see that that is a conversation that would come up ever? Do you think that would ever come up to say well if it works for Finland with athletics maybe we ought to look at it here? Do we ever think we'd see that in Iowa? Judy Jeffrey: I honestly don't think so. Paul Yeager: How do they get around -- I think it was in Finland in the article you had mentioned -- in math and science they make it interesting because I always remember classmates and it's not mine, it's everybody, but they go, why do I need to learn this? What is the importance of learning math or science? How is it that they get beyond that question to get something taught and results from those students? Linda Lantor Fandel: Well, if you look at the Finnish basic core curriculum for kids age 7 to 16 it's fairly focused on the child understanding their role in the world, their role in Finland, their role as an individual and their responsibilities and so it's got a very inward and outward focus at the same time and there's a very big emphasis on being engaging. It's not just about content. Paul Yeager: So, is that something that's working well or not working well? Judy Jeffrey: That is another goal of the core curriculum is that we really look at how we bring relevancy to all of the students in their classrooms and that it is absolutely engaging work. We really want to move, when we say core, we really want to move from this whole attitude of a mile wide and an inch deep to a mile deep and an inch wide and that is what the countries are doing that are outpacing us and outperforming us right now. So, that is one of the objectives of the core curriculum. Linda Lantor Fandel: I think one of the biggest challenges we face is building enough rigor into the curriculum early so that there is a base to build on as you go forward. I think that's one of the things that makes Finland especially successful, a lot of rigor very early. Paul Yeager: You do talk about core and there is a very rigorous setup but there's also freedom. How does that work? I don't quite understand how that translates. Linda Lantor Fandel: In both Finland and Alberta the curriculum says here is what you need to teach, here are the concepts, here are the essential skills, here are the performance outcomes we want students to be able to deliver when they're at the end of second grade, fourth grade, etc. The teachers figure out what lessons will produce those results and there's a huge amount of individual freedom from teacher to teacher, from school to school, from department to department in both places. Paul Yeager: So, how would that be different with the core curriculum that we're going to have in Iowa? Judy Jeffrey: That won't be different. There really is a great deal of still local control and the teachers developing their lessons and really feeling a part of how do we bring those essential concepts and skills into our classrooms and into our written curriculum in our own school districts. So, that part of it is very similar to have that teacher ownership because we know it really doesn't work very well to tell everybody exactly what to do or adults really don't like that. Paul Yeager: We like our freedoms in this country. There's also a concept of individualized lessons. How would that play or would that be a part of this curriculum? Judy Jeffrey: Well, I think as we really look at the world of technology and how rapidly it is moving there are more opportunities now for us to individualize and personalize not only lesson plans but also learning plans for students and I prefer it to be really learning plans rather than lesson plans because you really want a learning plan for each student. Right now in Iowa there is a learning plan that is dictated at eighth grade so that they can really look to what are their future career goals and then what do I really need to accomplish while I'm in high school in order to achieve that career goal. So, they're moving there but I think technology has the greatest hope for that. Paul Yeager: Teachers will say they can't squeeze anything else in the day so how do they go about implementing, how do the schools do that especially if we're talking about budgets that are being cut? How do you go and put that into place? Judy Jeffrey: We're really going to have to take a serious look and we're going to have to cut out some of the things maybe we'd like to teach and that have been a personal favorite of teachers. They're really going to have to examine that core and we're going to have to give up some things. Paul Yeager: Are you talking subjects or individual classes? Are we going to stop doing English 2 or something? Judy Jeffrey: I don't think they'll stop doing English 2 but all of the things that were covered in English 2 we may have to take a serious look at and say is that really as important as we think it should be? And how does that really align to the core curriculum? So, there are many decisions that have to be made and some of them will be hard. Paul Yeager: Schools are going to look dramatically different in the state the way it sounds here. What is that timetable going to be? Judy Jeffrey: Well, we have a timetable. Paul Yeager: I know it's 2012 for high school but is that when we will see the first big change? Judy Jeffrey: You will see this as a gradual improvement. I think all of the facts that Linda found is that these countries also continually focus on continuous improvement so you just don't flip the page of a book and find everything different tomorrow, it just doesn't work that way. And we know that it takes a quality teacher and in each of the countries that Linda also visited that really a great deal of attention was paid to that professional development of that teacher and that is absolutely crucial as we move forward. Paul Yeager: I need to bring Linda back in the conversation. We've only got a couple of minutes left, hard to believe. But let's talk about teachers and expectations for them. In Finland I think you said only ten percent get in the University of Helsinki. It's 85% of those who apply that get into the University of Northern Iowa. How do we change or do we need to change expectations on our teachers and the training for that? Linda Lantor Fandel: I think there is a whole systemic change that needs to occur. Salaries need to be considerably higher, working conditions need to be better, there needs to be more professionalism in the profession so that people who will be better teachers -- we have a lot of great teachers now but we don't have great teachers everywhere. You want to have great teachers everywhere you've got to create the conditions for that. Paul Yeager: And that's an individual district by district basis? Linda Lantor Fandel: That's something we need to do as a state. As you know the Governor has pushed to raise teacher's salaries successfully. We need to go farther with that but the working conditions, the training for teachers, those pieces are also critical. Paul Yeager: You've only got a minute so I want to ask one question. We don't need any more policy change right now, do we? Judy Jeffrey: No, we certainly don't. I would love to stay the course for just a few years so that we can actually implement the core and implement it very well and that we provide the training that we need for our teachers and I would love to get to the point where Finland and these other countries are in their selection of teachers. We have an extreme teacher shortage right now so that is a dilemma that we deal with. How selective can we be when, for example, I had 110 physics teachers ready to retire and we graduated 17? That puts us into a dilemma immediately. Paul Yeager: And that’s something we're going to have to look at. What are we doing right? Linda Lantor Fandel: We're doing a lot of things right in different places in the state and that is something we hope to focus on in this coming year as part of the world class schools -- consistency is the key and we're not there yet with consistency. Paul Yeager: Very good, I appreciate it. I hate to cut everybody off. Linda Lantor Fandel is the Deputy Editorial Director for The Des Moines Register and Judy Jeffrey is Director of the Iowa Department of Education. Ladies, thank you so much, great conversation as always. That is going to do it for tonight's Iowa Journal. That will wrap us up for tonight. Next week we're going to be back and we're going to examine the potential of what we need to do to utilize wetlands and other conservation efforts to help try to control flooding. Until then, I'm Paul Yeager. Have a good night. Funding for The Iowa Journal has been provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation, generations of families and friends who feel passionate about Iowa Public Television programs. And by ... MidAmerican Energy Company, helping to harness renewable sources of electricity through their investment in wind power. Information is available at midamericanenergy.com. MidAmerican Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service.