Director Wise: 21st century goals, 21st century vision
Last month I mentioned the five big issues most on my mind this fall, which included submission and implementation of Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, adoption of a new statewide assessment, the release of the Future Ready Iowa recommendations, the development of the Computer Science work group recommendations, and the exploration of instructional frameworks. My last column focused on the first two and this month I’ll provide some insight into the remaining three items.
For the past year, I have had the privilege of being a member of the Future Ready Iowa Alliance. The Alliance’s membership spans the public and private sectors and includes leaders from all levels of the education system, business and industry, nonprofits, and state government. The Alliance’s focus has been on developing recommendations that will help Iowa achieve an ambitious goal: By 2025, 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce will complete postsecondary education or training. On October 17, Governor Reynolds and Principal President and CEO Dan Houston announced the Alliance’s recommendations, which include:
- Create a Future Ready Iowa Last Dollar Scholarship and Grant Program.
- Better align and expand the ecosystem of support for Iowans beginning college or career training or returning to complete, with a focus on Iowans who are low income and/or underrepresented minorities.
- Expand high-quality work-based learning experiences in high-demand fields and careers for all students, particularly traditionally underrepresented students.
- Identify and scale effective early academic and career development and delivery approaches so all students are prepared for a changing world.
- Develop a grassroots strategy to engage the business community, sector boards, regional workforce boards, STEM regions and other regional collaborations to align with Alliance recommendations.
I’m excited because the recommendations both build upon the work schools have focused on for the last several years and challenge the education system to examine areas ripe for continued growth. For example, the work-based learning recommendation emphasizes leveraging current examples, including STEM BEST and work-based learning intermediary networks, while also calling for an increase in pre-apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships, internships and other employer-driven work-based learning programs. In order to reach the Future Ready goal, an additional 127,700 residents need to earn a two- or four-year college degree or other postsecondary credential. While this is a huge lift, I’m confident Iowans will work together to achieve this ambitious goal.
A similarly ambitious effort is also moving forward in expanding computer science education in Iowa. Last spring, the Iowa legislature passed Senate File 274, which established the Computer Science Education Work Group and set a goal that by July 1, 2019, every elementary school will offer instruction in the fundamentals of computer science; every middle school will offer exploratory computer science; and every high school will offer at least one high-quality computer science course. As Governor Reynolds has stated, computer science is a new basic skill in the technology-driven, 21st century economy. Building a strong foundation in computer science helps prepare students for personal and professional success and strengthen Iowa’s workforce talent pipeline. The work group recommendations, released on November 1, address five critical areas for expanding computer science education in Iowa, including:
- How computer science courses could satisfy graduation requirements for math or science.
- How these courses could be integrated into a career and technical education pathway.
- The settings in which courses could be delivered (including in traditional high school settings, concurrent enrollment classes, and online).
- Guidelines for an appropriate scope and sequence of computer science instruction at each grade level.
- How the computer science professional development fund created in the legislation could be used to meet the goals of the law.
The work group included both educators and business leaders. As you will read in the report, their recommendations, if enacted and supported, will help Iowa become a national leader in computer science education by ensuring more students have access to high-quality courses and schools have the ability to recruit, train and develop effective computer science teachers. I’m looking forward to developing the computer science education professional development incentive fund to support this work and to launching a group to write academic standards for this important field.
Finally, I’ve been meeting this fall with a team of educators from across Iowa to examine the use of instructional frameworks, which are also referred to as instructional rubrics or learning progressions, and to determine how we might expand the usage of these tools across the state. While the idea may have multiple names, the focus is on creating a common language and vision for quality teaching across an entire school district.
At the beginning of the school year, the Iowa Department of Education surveyed all school districts about their use of instructional frameworks. We found that roughly 40 percent of districts currently use a framework. Districts that utilize a framework find it has helped maximize the impact of teacher leaders. For example, one respondent stated, “It has helped us be very specific in current performance levels, opportunities for growth and helped to guide our conversations in a specific and meaningful way for teachers.”
Expanding the use of instructional frameworks in Iowa would also build upon a recommendation of the Council on Educator Development, which supported the use of learning progressions to improve educator practice. I look forward to further discussion on how we can continue to strengthen Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system through a focus on improved instruction.