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Iowa Department of Education

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The Iowa Department of Education (DE) works with the Iowa State Board of Education (State Board) to provide support, supervision, and oversight for the state education system that includes public elementary and secondary schools, nonpublic schools that receive state accreditation, area education agencies (AEAs), community colleges, and teacher preparation programs.

Vision and Mission


Iowa learners experience high levels of success and develop the capacity to continually grow as successful, healthy, and productive citizens in a global community.


Creating excellence in education through leadership and service.

Organization and Structure

The DE employs approximately 220 people in four major divisions: Division of Community Colleges, Division of School Finance and Support Services, Division of Policy and Communications, and Division of Learning and Results. Although the state libraries, vocational rehabilitation, and public television remain affiliated with the Department of Education, their operations have expanded and developed into independent entities with independent boards.

Director of the Iowa Department of Education

The Iowa Department of Education director is appointed by the Governor to serve a four-year term, subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate. The director's role is to provide leadership for the department as it carries out the policies and programs prescribed by state law and the State Board of Education; and to ensure department personnel are providing the necessary oversight and support for all schools, educators and students to meet their academic goals. The department director also serves as the executive officer of the State Board of Education, a nonvoting role.

Director Ryan Wise

Director Ryan Wise head shotDr. Ryan Wise brings demonstrated leadership and a deep commitment to his role as director of the Iowa Department of Education.

Great teachers inspired Wise to switch his career path to education during college, and their significant impact on students has shaped his work in education leadership at the district, state, national and international levels. This work includes leading the development of Gov. Branstad’s signature education reform initiative, the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation System.

Wise’s belief that all students can achieve at high levels took root two decades ago, when the South Dakota native was a young history teacher in a high-poverty, low-performing high school in Mississippi. Wise taught in rural and urban schools in Mississippi and Nebraska before moving to his home state to launch and lead Teach for America on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations.

Wise also worked to eliminate educational inequity around the world as one of the pioneering staff members of Teach for All, a global network of entrepreneurs.

He came to Iowa in 2012 to facilitate a state task force whose work laid the foundation for the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation System, which was adopted by the Iowa Legislature in 2013. That work formed the basis for his doctoral capstone, as well as his role with the Iowa Department of Education. As deputy director, Wise managed the development and delivery of the teacher leadership system, which is the most ambitious in the nation.

Wise also oversaw policy, communications and a statewide expansion of Iowa Learning Online, a state-run program that provides high-quality classes taught by Iowa-licensed teachers. He built important relationships statewide as the primary liaison to the State Board of Education, as a board member of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, as a member of the Governor’s Commission on National Service, and as a member of Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids, a joint effort by the Iowa Department of Education, the area education agencies, and school districts to scale up evidence-based practices across the state.

Wise earned a doctorate in education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a bachelor’s degree in history from Creighton University.

He lives in Des Moines with his wife, Sacha, and their two sons, Weston and Graham.


The Department was created by the 35th General Assembly in 1913 and was originally called the Department of Public Instruction. The current name was adopted in 1986.

In its early years, the Department was charged with working with the many small, isolated school buildings to build a formal system of public education that included organized districts with defined duties and boundaries, as well as specific qualifications for teachers. While the state department was established to provide oversight, local schools maintained the authority to set many of the rules and requirements for their own students. This system of "local responsibility" - based on the belief that local residents have the greatest interest in assuring their children's success - continues today. As Iowa progressed over the decades with greater diversity in business, industry, and population, the public education system evolved to reflect and encompass those changes. In the mid 1960s, a system of 15 public, two-year community colleges was established to provide more students the opportunity for continued education and training beyond high school. In the mid-1970s, the system of AEAs was developed to provide regional support for local schools and their teachers. Originally, the community colleges and the AEAs shared the same service area boundaries. In recent years, several AEAs have merged to provide greater efficiency in regions with declining populations.

Related story: A walk through Iowa’s one-room schoolhouses

Iowa Education System


Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on April 26, 2018 at 8:02pm.