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Setting a Higher Standard for Teacher Entry in Iowa

Securing a place in the teaching profession will become a bit tougher in Iowa, if Gov. Terry Branstad and the state's school chief, Jason Glass, have their way.

Branstad, a Republican, has proposed requiring a minimum 3.0 grade-point average for admission to teacher-education colleges in the state, as part of a package of proposed changes to school policy unveiled earlier this year, many of which would require legislative approval.

He's also called for creating a more rigorous screening process for candidates for teacher education programs; establishing new teacher-education scholarships with the goal of luring more educators into high-need subjects; requiring teachers to take more subject-specific coursework and classes in core academic subjects; and placing more of an emphasis on in-class training for aspiring teachers, and giving them access to mentors, among other changes. Selective admissions requirements for aspiring educators—coupled with ongoing training and support—is a staple of some high-performing countries' systems, as Ed Week has reported.

The governor has also called for overhauling the compensation system for educators more broadly, and raising starting teacher pay—though he recently said he wants to hold off on trying to get that piece through the legislature, as he seeks to build support for the plan.

This week the Des Moines Register takes an interesting look at the implications of the minimum GPA requirement.

By the newspaper's analysis, one of five teachers would have been turned away last year at teachers' colleges in the state, had the requirement been in effect. The Register was able to obtain information on applicants from three public university programs, though the vast majority of private institutions refused to provide it. Critics of Branstad's proposal say it would exclude teacher-candidates who may have struggled as undergraduates but could still be effective teachers; others wonder if it will exclude a higher number of minority candidates, the paper noted.

Glass told me that state officials are still examining whether to allow some flexibility on the 3.0 GPA requirement—such as allowing an aspiring teacher who does not meet the standard to gain entry through high scores on the Praxis, a teacher-licensing exam, or through other means.

The new standard would apply to both public and private institutions in Iowa, Glass added, because the state accredits all of those teacher programs and would not do so if they don't adhere to the standard.

"It's one way to add selectivity into the teacher workforce," Glass said of the minimum GPA. "The principle here is that we want to raise the bar."

Glass said he understood critics' concerns that the GPA requirement could create challenges for filling workforce needs and luring minority candidates into the profession, but he said the state is counting on teacher colleges taking steps to overcome those challenges, such as by putting in place more aggressive recruitment strategies.

The Register's finding, showing that one-fifth of aspiring teachers not meeting the 3.0 threshold, "shows that we can be more selective and should be more selective in developing teachers and a more well-prepared workforce," he said.


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