Legislators: Iowa education reform bill will likely focus on early childhood literacy

BY LOGAN EDWARDS | MAY 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa legislators said the surviving policies of a nearly four-month debate over education reform will likely focus on early childhood literacy.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he met with Education Conference Committee co-head Rep. Royd Chambers, R-Sheldon, numerous times last week to develop a final version of the bill that concentrates on childhood literacy. The draft will likely be introduced either today or Tuesday to the rest of the conference committee.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said a proposed literacy program in the bill would cost roughly $2 million, making it one of the smaller proposed reforms. He said other proposals, such as college-entrance exams and career-preparation tests for high-school students, will likely be cut because of their extensive costs.

Legislators are focusing on literacy, he said.

"What [the co-heads] are doing makes sense," Dvorsky said. "We just need to move forward with what makes sense, such as literacy and continue to look at what needs to be discussed [in the future]."

Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, said he thinks third-grade retention will not be included in the bill's early education focus.

In earlier debates, efforts were made to link efficient literacy rates with third-grade retention to ensure young students had early successes in reading. Hamerlinck said the retention effort's controversial measures would not likely gain enough support.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said early literacy is key to later success in a child's life.

"If you wait until the child is in middle school or high school, it's almost too late [to help them]," she said. "The earlier you can help students, the better."

Iowa City School Board member Karla Cook said she agrees with the legislation's current priorities.

"I do believe that focusing on making every child literate would be a wonderful thing to do," she said. "If they can read and understand everything, there will be less issues in high school."

Iowa City School Board member Sarah Swisher said literacy efforts are more effective the earlier they are introduced to a child.

"Our problem isn't that teachers do not know how to teach," she said. "It's that we don't expand the resources and support they need."

Cook said she does not agree with the suggestion of exit or placement exams at the high-school level.

"There are a lot of students who mature at different times," Cook said.

Swisher shared Cook's views.

"I think testing can put too high of an emphasis on performance," Swisher said. "Those sorts of arbitrary guidelines don't belong in a classroom."

While policymakers said it's unlikely the specifics on placement exams will be included in the final bill, Dvorsky said legislators will continue to examine testing in the future.

Quirmbach said the bill will lay the framework for education reform in upcoming years. Other specifics included in the bill will be released following discussion by the other members of the committee.

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