The Iowa Journal _214

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The Iowa Journal _214 Powered By Docstoc
					                    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 MidAmerican
Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service.

From river to river, border to border this is The Iowa Journal.   Here is Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 MidAmerican
Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service.