Director Wise: Combining data, experience = progress
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Too often, school performance is painted in broad brush strokes. And more often than not, the picture portrays struggles and failures. Anyone who has spent time in an Iowa school knows this is not an accurate representation of the state of education.
At the same time, though, Iowa educators recognize we have much work ahead in ensuring all students achieve success both in and beyond school. Holding these two truths, that Iowa schools are succeeding and that there are areas for growth, is critical to the improvement process. Reflecting on the bright spots while simultaneously shining a light on the challenges we face can inspire and motivate.
In the last month, we’ve released three important data and information sources, which highlight both successes and challenges: the annual Condition of Education report, Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports, and the latest edition of the Iowa School Report Card. I know many of you have already spent hours combing through the data, using it to help illustrate a story and engage your stakeholders.
As we continue to refine our measures and focus on what matters, like preparing students to earn a postsecondary degree or credential and reducing the number of students who take
remedial courses in college, data can be powerful tool.
And I also know that data doesn’t tell the whole story of your school community. The combination, though, of data and experience can be a catalyst, igniting and accelerating progress.
I spend a lot of time looking at data and reports. But I spend even more time actually visiting schools. So while I see the gaps that exist on paper, like the drop-off that occurs between students who start a degree program and those who complete it within five years, I experience the steps schools are taking to address challenges.
For example, on a recent visit to the Bellevue Community School District I observed dozens of students making real-world connections to their learning through Bellevue BIG, a district program in which students lead community-based projects. They were planning an urban orchard, designing a water purification project for a relief organization in Haiti, mentoring elementary students, painting murals for an area hospital, and working with Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources. Another group of students, in an industrial tech class, used software and a plasma cutter to design and create a personalized nameplate for me. While all of these efforts started with Iowa’s academic standards, they blossomed into opportunities that are preparing students for the future.
Examples like this are the rule, not the exception in Iowa. And schools are working harder each day to ensure more opportunities are opened for more students. These efforts will help Iowa reach the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s ambitious Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the state’s workforce having education or training beyond high school by the year 2025. Based on what I’m seeing in Iowa’s schools, I know this goal is attainable.