Oklahoma Leaders Looking At ‘Iowa Model’ To Improve Education

Wednesday, May 25th 2016, 11:12 pm
By: News On 6

Oklahomans will decide this November whether to add a one-cent sales tax dedicated to education. A big chunk of the money would be set aside for teacher raises.

But would that be enough to improve Oklahoma schools? If you ask folks in Iowa, the answer is a resounding "no."

At some point in every week in every classroom in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you'll find two teachers - one for the kids, one for the teacher.

Karen Phillips is what is called an instructional design strategist.

"I actually carry with me the six steps that we're looking for when we meet with teachers to co-plan," Phillips said. "I coach teachers."

She spends time in every classroom in her building once a week, followed by a planning session with the classroom teacher. Together, they review strategy and look to the week ahead.

It's all part of Iowa's teacher leadership program, enacted by the legislature just three years ago.

"Iowa, for decades, was the national leader in education excellence," said director of Iowa’s Department of Education, Ryan Wise.

But when those standards began to slip, the legislature looked for the most effective way to improve education.

"Iowa has made a significant financial investment in this," he said.

They decided simply giving teachers raises wasn't enough.

"You can throw resources at schools, and if you do not provide support and provide leadership for the adults in that school setting, then you've wasted your money," said Mary Ellen Maske, Cedar Rapids deputy superintendent.

So, Iowa put the spotlight on empowering teachers.

"It really gets down to boots on the ground - teachers in the classroom. We know the most important interaction in the classroom is between the student and the teachers," said Maske.

Iowa’s education reform raised the salaries of starting teachers and tied other bonuses to leadership roles.

In Cedar Rapids, 500 teachers participate in 42 different jobs covering everything from classroom instruction to building maintenance. We asked, is it going too far to say now teachers help run the school?

"I would definitely say that - which they want," said elementary school principal, Joy Long. "They want more say in designing the way things are going and what we're doing."

Teacher Melissa Hawking went from 19 years in the classroom to overseeing the leadership program in eight buildings.

"This gives them another place to grow professionally and another career path to go on," she said.

It also gives teachers another way to make more money - for Hawking, up to $10,000 a year more.

"It definitely is keeping me in the profession for the long run."

That is the kind of statement that caught the attention of Oklahoma State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Hofmeister included the framework for a teacher leadership program as one of her top priorities to the legislature this year, and while it didn't get a lot of attention, it did pass.

"We're very encouraged by what's been accomplished in Iowa," Hofmeister said. "That has already been signed by the governor and will be in place starting next year."

Of course, there's a catch - the money to pay for it. Iowa spends $150 million a year for their teacher leadership program. Oklahoma's legislature didn't assign it any money at all.

Still, Hofmeister believes the Iowa model is the future of education, and she's optimistic the tide is turning.

"I believe this is a new day," she said. "People understand that we have a new focus on professional development."

This is just the second full year for the program in Iowa, so test results are still preliminary. But education leaders there said they are excited about what they're seeing so far.

As for the teachers' response, officials said the number one comment they hear is “thank you.”