Wow. Can I even consider myself a blogger if it's been over ten days since my last entry? It's obviously either feast or famine here: I'm either writing my tail off in one blog challenge or another, or I'm neglecting the site while gathering articles and ideas that I could write about (without any follow-through). I couldn't ignore this post I saw over the weekend, though. JoAnn Gage (fellow ICTE teacher-extraordinaire) posted it on Facebook, and I think it deserves wide circulation. Link to what I'm talking about here: Focus on Excellence.
This post was written by David J. Wilkerson, the Superintendent of Waukee Community School District here in Iowa. I know nothing about him aside from this post, but man, this is the kind of administrator I'd love to work for. Taking a stand like this takes guts, and he's talking about things that actually matter. His plea for the new Iowa legislative session centers on two topics: school start date and school funding.
I admit that I don't have a horse in the first race. I know a lot of people are upset that our Governor has set the school start date as after Labor Day and has proposed to stop early-start waivers for districts (which all districts here do). This impacts high schools a lot because of semester dates, but at the middle school level the main inconvenience for me is that we'd be going pretty late into June each year after snow days are accounted for. That's a pain, but summer would extend later through August, so it doesn't really change much for me. That's a selfish perspective, and I do hope this changes back to allowing schools to continue to apply for early start waivers.
The part of this post I love is about school funding. We are bare-bones here in Iowa in case I haven't made that clear in the past. Especially in a rural community. When your funding depends on how many students are in the district and you have a small district, you end up with low funding. Many people mistakenly think that a small school means small class sizes. Wrong. Yes, we don't have many students per grade, but we also don't have many teachers. Since I attended school in one of the largest districts in Iowa, I'm often shocked at how little the majority of our state's districts have. The lack of resources and increasing class sizes are astonishing. The fact that stood out most from Wilkerson's piece was this: "We now rank 35th in per pupil spending, $1,612 below the national average."
Really, Iowa? That's really the best we can do? That's how little we value education and our future citizens? I've heard arguments before that Iowa is low on spending because we also have a low cost of living here in the Midwest, but it still seems that something is not right. Politicians in Iowa spent a lot of time campaigning about education and how our schools need to regain a status of excellence in national rankings (US News ranked our high schools 43rd last year). I'm not saying that's the definitive ranking of schools, but if it's something our legislators are looking at, maybe they should also look at our funding. It seems the connection between low spending and low ranking go hand in hand. How are our schools going to magically get better if we don't have any help?
If our state wants better schools, then lawmakers should invest in them. Investing in schools means many things, but it's foolish and dangerous to ignore the role that money plays in improvement.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.