Educators at Iowa’s ‘failing schools’ say they are used as part of political agenda

How do educators at 34 Iowa schools feel about spending the past year hearing elected officials say they are running “failing schools”? Leaders at 13 schools explained the shortcomings of the metric that assigned them the “failing” label, as well as the unique challenges students and staff confronted — even before legislation introduced at the Statehouse singled them out as places where families could get state assistance to leave, they told IowaWatch. “Failing schools” is hyperbole for schools designated by the state as “comprehensive.” These are the Title I schools that score in the bottom 5 percent in the state based on students’ performance on the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress test, and/or for high schools, have a graduation rate below 67.1 percent. IowaWatch in a year-long investigation found that although each state is required to identify the bottom-scoring 5 percent of Title I schools every three years, it doesn’t mean these schools are “failing.”

A common misconception is that all schools are the same, said Jason Aker, principal of Baxter Elementary School in Baxter. “‘Thirty-four failing schools’ is a really crummy way of saying that, because the answer is simple; it’s the bottom 5 percent.

Evans: Another school problem is not being discussed

When you have orbited the sun as many times as I have, people sometimes want to tap into the insights you have gathered through the years. Young journalists and newsroom managers ask about the lessons I accumulated from a half-century in the newspaper business. One lesson is quite simple, actually: Keep your eyes and ears open, and never hesitate to ask questions. The lesson came through loud and clear one afternoon in the 1980s when I was an editor on the Des Moines Register’s metro desk. The phones were constantly ringing.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Rural schools battled bad internet, low attendance in the pandemic. Will spring semester be better?

Andy and Amy Jo Hellenbrand live on a little farm in south-central Wisconsin where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, heifers, chickens, goats, bunnies, and their four children, ages 5 to 12. For the entire fall semester, the quartet of grade school students learned virtually from home, as their district elected to keep school buildings closed. That has put a strain on the family, as well as the childrens’ grades and grammar. “I definitely feel like they’re falling behind,” said Amy Jo Hellenbrand. “You just notice certain things as far as their language and how they talk.