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The Business Case for Education Reform

By John Stineman, Executive Director, Iowa Chamber Alliance

The 2013 legislative session presents many opportunities for business —  property tax reform, economic development incentives, transportation infrastructure to name just a few issues that perennially top the agenda of Iowa’s businesses and economic development community.  Standing atop these important issues is education reform.

Education?

Yes, business considers education reform to be at least as important as the other core issues within our policy agendas.

The fact of the matter is that Iowa’s once vaunted public education system is no longer as competitive as it was just half a generation ago.

It’s not so much that Iowa has gone backward as much as it is that the rest of the country has improved at a far greater pace.  We used to be at or near the top and now dwell in the lower end of the middle of the pack.

From a strictly business perspective, we must address education reform because of Iowa’s growing skills gap.  Today in Iowa about 18% of available jobs are considered to be “low skill,” but about 38% of the available Iowa workforce is classified as “low skill.”  Middle skill job openings represent half of all open positions in Iowa, but only one-third of available workers are considered to be middle skill.

The skills gap is real, it is growing, and, unfortunately, our education system today is not geared to address it.

Beyond the immediate workforce needs, consider our education outcomes today.  36% of the “Class of 2012” that went on to higher or vocational education after high school required some sort of remedial education after high school.  This is stark evidence we are not systematically equipping our kids with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed after high school.

Of course, it’s not just about the skills gap or what kind of access employers need to qualified workers.

It’s about Iowa’s kids.  It’s about our kids and grandkids.

We’ve all chosen to live in Iowa, to raise our families here.  Making sure our kids have access to a quality education that will help prepare our kids to compete in a global economy and pursue their dreams is among our most important duties.

That’s why education reform is so important.

The reforms proposed by the Governor and now being vetted by the Iowa House of Representatives are a solid start on turning the tide for Iowa’s schools.  The reforms bring with them substantive changes that will fuel teacher leadership from mentor teachers and teacher leaders to drive innovation and energy into subject matter teachers.

The proposal elevates the profession of teaching – increasing first year pay and providing a longer student teaching period so new teachers can hit the ground running when given their own classroom.

The reform proposal expands online learning opportunities by bringing students from across Iowa together to learn online from Iowa teachers in districts that offer subjects not offered in other districts.

Teacher accountability is also important.  A statistic often cited at the Capitol is that 98% of Iowa teachers receive favorable reviews.  While there are many, many quality teachers across Iowa, it is simply not realistic to believe that only two in every 100 are in need of improvement.  Evaluations must include student performance as well as peer reviews and other measures.

The Iowa Chamber Alliance is supportive of the reforms proposed and interested in other ideas that will help improve Iowa’s schools as well.  We are hopeful partisan differences and political arguments can be set aside so that meaningful reform can be achieved.

There is simply too much at stake for us not to succeed in improving our schools.  It truly is the most important thing we can do this session.

For more information, please contact Iowa Chamber Alliance Executive Director, John Stineman, at (515) 226-1492 or john@iowachamberalliance.com.

The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber is an active member of the Iowa Chamber Alliance. Alliance & Chamber CEO Steve Dust is the current Chair of ICA board of directors. Steve Firman, Alliance & Chamber Director of Gov’t Relations is also on its board.

 

 

 

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The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber is a regional economic community development corporation working to increase economic vitality and wealth in the Waterloo / Cedar Falls area and surrounding economic region. The Alliance & Chamber has approximately 800 members that represents over 40,000 employees