Director Ryan Wise reflects on the state of Iowa’s education
Ryan Wise, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, was named 2017 Policy Leader of the Year by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Wise reflected on Iowa's opportunities for teachers, some major education initiatives, and his travels to school districts across the state:
1. Early literacy laws have changed. Does that change the direction in which the state is going?
While retention and intensive summer reading program requirements are eliminated, Iowa remains fully committed to ensuring all students read proficiently by the end of third grade. To me, the focus has always been on identifying challenges individual students have in learning to read, ensuring those students have the support they need to overcome those challenges and creating a partnership between schools and parents in this process. The law maintains its focus on each of these areas.
2. The Teacher Leadership and Compensation program now is in full swing throughout the state. Through your travels to 100-plus districts, what are the attributes of the best TLC programs?
I continue to be amazed by the positive impact teacher leadership is having in Iowa. Teachers now have greater ownership over decision-making, they receive more support than ever before, and they report the quality of collaboration and professional learning in their schools has increased tremendously since the adoption of TLC. Most important, teachers and administrators believe that teacher leadership has improved the instruction students receive each day. In the schools that are fully maximizing TLC, they have clearly articulated each of the leadership roles and are clear about how the roles fit together to support a clear vision for school improvement. They also approach the work with a focus on continuous improvement, utilize all available data and decision making and build trusting relationships between teachers, teacher leaders and administrators that support the often difficult conversations that need to happen to improve student achievement.
3. What do you see as the challenges education faces in the state?
In Iowa, we've identified a few key, clear, statewide priorities, including teacher leadership, early literacy, strong academic standards, enhanced CTE and STEM programming, and increased connections between education and the workforce. A key challenge is ensuring we remain focused on these priorities, not just in the years, but in the decades ahead.
4. Career and technical education (CTE) has received renewed attention in Iowa. Why is that? And how is it different from CTE in years past?
Iowa faces a significant workforce challenge. Employers often struggle to find the skilled workers they need to fill critical roles. Many of these jobs require the type of education and training that high-quality CTE programs are designed to provide. The revamped approach is designed to meet the needs of the labor market and ensure equitable access to strong CTE programming for all Iowa students.
5. In an elevator pitch, what would you say to someone who is considering becoming a teacher?
Do it! Iowa has limitless opportunities for teachers. The TLC system has changed the profession for the better. New teachers receive more support than ever before, veteran teachers have many opportunities to take on important leadership roles, and a new culture of collaboration permeates almost every classroom in the state. While teaching can challenge even the best in the profession, there's no more rewarding career.
6. In your travels around the state, is there one particular thing that stands out in your mind? An anecdote? A surprise?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic welcome I receive on my visits. Iowa schools are incredibly welcoming places. They're committed to ensuring their kids are prepared to succeed after graduation and they're eager to share this with the public. In particular, I'll always remember the students in Bellevue who created a Dr. Wise nameplate for me. Not only was it an incredibly thoughtful gesture, it also demonstrated a highly technical skill valued by potential future employers.