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Iowa Plans a Push for Education

If you put together a list of states that have made major changes to education policy recently—Illinois, Indiana, and Florida, to name a few—Iowa almost certainly doesn't make the cut.

But by the looks of things, some Iowans are keen on having their state join the club.

On July 25-26, the state will host the "Iowa Education Summit," which will focus heavily on building a workforce of effective teachers and administrators, among other issues.The summit's agenda promises sessions on attracting more teaching talent, setting the bar higher for teacher evaluation and compensation, making principals effective instructional leaders, using technology wisely, and supporting teachers. Some of those issues, particularly on the topic of teacher pay, evaluation, and job protections, have proved divisive in states around the country.

Iowans have long prided themselves on the quality of their schools, and the state has a history of going its own way on education policy. But today, some Iowa officials, like Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who have taken the lead in organizing the summit, believe the state is slipping educationally.

In an "Dear Iowans" letter, explaining the summit and asking residents to participate, Branstad and Reynolds sounded the warning.

"Other states that put ambitious reforms in place have passed us by," they wrote. "But Iowa can again claim the best schools in the country."

Branstad will use the summit, and a series of public events leading up to it, to "build consensus and gather ideas" about legislation he and state lawmakers will consider introducing next year, said his spokesman, Jimmy Centers. At a recent press event, the governor suggested he hoped to work with teachers and administrators to make policy changes that they could support, and avoid the types of battles that have rocked other states this year.

"We're interested in finding new and different ways to do things, and those are never easy to get approved," the governor said. "We want to do this right."

The lineup of speakers includes a lot of education-policy types from across the United States, and even a few foreign countries. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to appear, and one of the big-name draws from the Republican side is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been an outspoken critic of unions and a proponent of judging teachers based on classroom performance.

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