Some question governor’s education summit

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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Effectiveness, innovation, and higher achievements.

Those are the three key topics Gov. Terry Branstad said he hopes education leaders from Iowa and across the U.S. will discuss this summer at the Iowa Education Summit. The event is scheduled for July 25 and 26 in Des Moines.

But Iowa education officials are mixed on whether the summit will be effective.

University of Iowa Professor Christopher Morphew, the chairman of the Educational Policy and Leadership Studies Department, said he wonders what effect the event will have on Iowa’s education system.

“While I’m hopeful that summits like this can be helpful in bringing new and innovative ideas to bear, I think it’s much more reasonable to view events like this as ‘political theater’,” he said.

Tim Hagle, a UI political-science associate professor, said the summit shows Branstad is serious about education.

The purpose of the summit is to outline specific ways in which Iowa can become a top-performing state in education and also to ensure Iowa youth remain competitive in the global sphere.

Branstad announced the Education Summit during his inaugural address Jan 14.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be the summit’s keynote speaker. In addition, Stanford University education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, David Driscoll, the head of the National Assessment Governing, which sets polices for the National Assessment of Education Progress, and Vivien Stewart, senior adviser for education at the Asia Society, will be part of the event.

“The experts that are scheduled to attend seem to represent various approaches to education that have been successful in other places,” Hagle said. “Hopefully, this will begin a useful dialogue between various interested parties.”

Still, Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, the head of the Senate Education Committee, said he worries the dollar amounts attached to the summit might keep away education organizations.

“If only the people who can afford to be there are there, I don’t know how effective it can be, given those people will be the only ones heard,” Schoenjahn said.

There is a mandatory $50 fee for any organization planning to attend, said Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director. He said officials are asking the organizations in attendance to consider donations upwards of $10,000 so that taxpayers won’t have to contribute to the event.

Martie Kline, the communications director at the Iowa Association of School Boards, said leaders of the organization are planning to attend and would likely donate to the event.

“I know that we’ll want to be a part of it and help how ever we can because it’s an important event for all Iowa school board members and Iowa students,” she said.

Roundtable discussion topics include global competition in the work force and ways to prepare students for college among business and education leaders.

“One issue that is important to colleges, particularly the three regents’ universities, is retention,” Hagle said. “Better prepared students entering college should then result in better prepared students earning degrees and getting good jobs.”

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