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Another Potential Scandal Brewing In Iowa’s Education System

Another Potential Scandal Brewing In Iowa’s Education System

Iowa map educationWith a sweeping education reform package currently being worked on by a bi-partisan Conference Committee at the Statehouse, some potentially damaging information about how the state is representing student achievement is coming to light.  Late last week the citizen group Iowalive released a report that would, if true, give all Iowa parents and legislators cause for grave concern.

The crux of the report is Iowalive’s claim that the standards our Department of Education is using to report student proficiency levels is misleading.  This, according to the group, stems from Iowa having adopted a lower standard to measure student learning called the “40th National Percentile Rank”.  This current set of standards was adopted a decade ago by the then Governor Vilsack administration and is different from a more “honest” standard used by other states known as the “65th National Percentile Rank”.  The 40th National Percentile Rank standards that we use now apparently do not actually require a student to be proficient in various skills at their grade level to be deemed as such.  The obvious problem here being that if this is the case, parents are being told their child is succeeding at their grade level when in fact they are not.  If true this is absolutely unacceptable.

Between long declining national education rankings, the misrepresenting of graduation rates at some Des Moines High Schools, and the entire Nancy Sebring debacle–the education system here in Iowa hasn’t exactly built a huge reservoir of trust recently.  Despite this, and despite the fact spending on K-12 has increased $650 million since 2002 (+35.4%), the legislature is potentially poised to yet again increase the dollars flowing into this institution by almost $200 million any day now.  If the claims of Iowalive have any merit it’s long past the time to say enough is enough–the river of funds needs to be damned until the system functions honestly and properly.


More To Come

This issue will be looked into further by this website in the coming weeks, including a specific explanation of the two sets of standards.  At first glance the source–Iowalive–appears to be legitimate group with expertise in education and statistics (I was unfamiliar with them prior to late last week).  In the meantime I encourage you to visit their website (link here), and become informed on their general claims.  If everything they say checks out, this level of brazen misrepresentation and deception to Iowa parents will be a massive outrage.  If a teacher tells a parent their child is performing “at a 3rd grade level” in a subject, that better mean exactly that–anything else would be totally unacceptable.

Without a doubt Iowa legislators from both parties and both chambers should demand an explanation from Jason Glass and the Department of Education.  If it turns out they have been “cooking the books” with a deliberately low standard to enhance our schools perceived performance, then the reform bill currently being discussed should be tabled immediately.

Below is an excerpt from the Iowalive report, here is a link to the report complete with tables and source data, and more can be found at their website.  Though the information is not presented in a lively way, these are serious charges that demand being responded to by our elected and unelected government officials.  We as Iowans must have answers on this very, very soon.




Greetings, Governor Terry Branstad and all—

Finally, at 3:34 PM, Friday May 10, (to make it nearly impossible to make the Sunday Papers) the Department of Education provided Percent Proficient data Iowalive requested on Jan.14, 2013.  The data would not have been provided at all except for prodding from State senators and the State Ombudsman—who are gratefully thanked for their help.

As shown in the table below, the Department of Education reported to parents, students, legislators, taxpayers and others that 74.4% of Iowa 4th graders are Reading  Proficiently (Expertly) at the 4th grade level, when in fact the Department of Education just admitted only  40.3% are actually reading at the 4th grade level, when tested.  This equates to an 85% inflation, or misrepresentation, of student achievement—perpetrated by use of the bogus 40th National  Percentile Rank (NPR) Proficiency standard, adopted by the Department of Education, under Governor Vilsack and the ISEA  teacher union.

Similarly, the table shows parents, students, legislators, taxpayers and  others were told 78.2% of Iowa 4th graders are doing Math Proficiently (Expertly) at the 4th grade level, when in fact the Department of Education just admitted only  40.1% are actually doing Math at the 4th grade level, when tested.  This equates to a 95% inflation or misrepresentation of student achievement.

Similar misrepresentations for 8th and 11th grade reading and math are shown in the table.  It must be stated that the Department  of Education made NO corrections for cheating, as if none exists, despite gross cheating already under investigation in Davenport.

The problem is: Iowa’s low 40th NPR ‘proficiency’ standard considers 4th graders scoring at the 3.1 Iowa grade level to be ‘proficient’ or expert 4th grade readers!  Similarly, Iowa’s low standard considers 8th graders scoring at the 6.9 Iowa grade level to be ’proficient’ or expert 8th grade readers, and 11th graders scoring at the 9.2 level to be “proficient” or expert 11 grade readers.  The same applies to Math–and all grades tested.  This is nearly double the number actually Proficient.  And it is going on in grades 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, & 10 as well.

Large Iowa media news editors have failed, and stubbornly refuse, to report these shameful, if not outright fraudulent,  conditions to Iowans.

Governor Branstad, you’re a lawyer—if this misrepresentation isn’t fraudulent, what is??  What are you going to do about it?  This happened on your watch—even though it started under Governor Vilsack!   DE Director, Jason Glass, could have stopped using the bogus 40th NPR Proficiency Standard and replaced it with the honest 65th NPR, but he did not, Governor.  How come?

(Read Report With Tables)


Challenging Iowa’s Proposed Education Reforms: Part 1 of 3 (Increased Teacher Pay)

Challenging Iowa’s Proposed Education Reforms: Part 1 of 3 (Increased Teacher Pay)

Later this session the Iowa Legislature will debate various measures, namely the Governor’s, designed to improve the performance of our state’s K-12 schools.  There are three main components to the Governor’s proposal and in a continuing series we will look at each separately.  Today we start with the most expensive—the $160 million for increasing the base teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000 over the next three years.

First things first here, before they appropriate an additional dime of taxpayer money to this system it is both fair and prudent that at least three simple questions be asked and answered—Who are the great teachers in Iowa? Who are the average teachers? and Who are the bad teachers?

To clarify, by “who” I mean a literal list of names district by district categorizing each teacher as great, average, or poor in terms of classroom performance.  Though this sounds simplistic I think most Iowans would be shocked to know how complicated a question this really is—and even further shocked to find out that nobody in the education bureaucracy can currently answer these questions definitively.

All we hear from both political parties is we have great teachers in Iowa, and to both reward this greatness and make sure we have great teachers in the future we have to pay them more.  Even though it’s just as pertinent to fixing the problem, and because it’s not pleasant or politically correct, we never hear about bad teachers in our classrooms.  You would think the first step in solving this problem, as it would be in the private sector, would be determine which employees are not performing their jobs at a high level.

While there is no doubt I am skeptical of most of these individual proposals I will reserve judgment and keep an open mind as legislation is crafted and various amendments are added.  I don’t need to agree with all elements of the final product to support it, but do have to feel that it at least identifies the problem specifically.  As with all issues there is both a policy and a political aspect that need examined.

The Policy

From a policy perspective, to just approve a blanket increase in pay when a majority of our schools are functioning very well is silly—and to spend this money with no clear goal or way of measuring success is flat-out nonsensical.  Common sense says that in order for anyone, especially a Republican, to support a final bill it would have to contain clear benchmarks and ways of actually proving results were being delivered for the extra pay. As it stands now the approach seems to be let’s just pay teachers more money and in theory kids will learn more—which hasn’t proven to be the case in the past.

To make the point beyond question that we have already tried the increased funding approach, one needs only to consider the following three statistics: 1) since 2002 education appropriations to K-12 schools in Iowa has increased $650 million (+35.4%), 2) the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010, and 3) 4% allowable growth was given every year from 2006 to 2010.  In spite of all these amazing numbers, here we are again talking about more money.

What few seem willing to say is that when a school is failing there are only three actors involved to shoulder the blame—the teachers, the parents, or the students.  Simply put, one of the three, or a combination of all three, are at fault when a school is failing.  When looking at the teachers one obvious element is missing—a way to fairly evaluate how good each one is and how much money they deserve.  Until this gets determined one senses that no amount of increased spending will do the trick.  Here is what I propose.

While unsympathetic to their concerns regarding “teaching to a test”, I’m relatively sympathetic to teacher’s arguments that there are many factors out of their control determining a classes’ progress throughout a school year.  Taking this into account my initial thought on a fair formula to evaluate our teachers (and hence dictate future pay) would look like this: 25%= credit for years on the job and the resulting experience (this would be automatic much like the step and lane increases in the current formula), 25%= based on student achievement using a baseline for the class coming in compared to their results going out, and 50%= determined by a yearly grading and evaluation by their direct superior (usually their principal).

The Politics

From a political standpoint the construct of the increased pay proposal seems to be offering Democrats (the teachers’ union) the following: we will increase teacher pay in exchange for allowing student achievement to be factored in to teacher evaluation.  In my view Republicans shouldn’t be bargaining for a student achievement metric in evaluations—they should be demanding it.  This should be a reality both because it makes perfect sense, and because past reforms and increases in pay have not solved the problem.  Republicans should be able to win on the political argument that, in order to fix the problem, Iowans need to know which teachers are adequately doing their jobs.

If there is a political trade to be made in exchange for increasing teacher pay it should be for a significant look at the benefits of true school choice for parents.  In my mind this would be a four year pilot program in which parents at all failing and sub-standard schools in Des Moines would have the freedom to spend the per-pupil cost attached to their child at any school they chose (with transportation being the responsibility of each participating parent).  All students involved would have their progress tracked, with reports being given to the legislature after years 2 and 4.  This would be similar in principal to the Zaun study bill from last session without all the “extreme” elements, like abolishing the Dept. of Education etc.

I would love to see baby-steps being taken in this direction, and would dare the teachers’ union to make the argument to Iowans that the well-being of the teachers and their union trumps that of a student in a failing school which they staff.


Given the history of failure in select districts and the many fruitless past funding increases, in general I believe the Republican hand on education reform is stronger than the Governor’s proposal recognizes.  There is little reason the argument can’t be made that we have tried the teachers’ union way of never assigning blame and increasing spending—and it has not worked.  If there is going to be reform, let us at least not try the same blanket increases in spending and hope for a different result.  Instead we should identify the shortcomings in the flawed districts and fix them specifically.

Arne Duncan and DOE’s End Around Congress to Change FERPA, Invade Student Privacy

Arne Duncan and DOE’s End Around Congress to Change FERPA, Invade Student Privacy

arne duncanThis article was originally posted at Caffeinated Thoughts.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the educrats at the U.S. Department of Education know that Congress would never vote to codify the changes they seek in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) so they’re changing up regulations in order to do so.  They want to allow private and invasive information to be gathered on students and families in order to supply the workforce.

This has nothing to do with improving the education that children receive.  The sole purpose for these changes are to data mine and pass that information along to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor who will then provide it to the private sector workforce.

Public comment is open until Monday, May 23rd.  You can make a public comment here.  Missouri Education Watchdog provided a helpful information sheet that breaks down further which I’m including below.


The Department of Education (DOE) has proposed regulatory changes that would gut the primary federal student-privacy statute, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA imposes strict limits on how the government may use so-called Personally Identifiable Information (PII) collected on students by schools or government education agencies. Under the proposed changes to the regulations issued under FERPA, DOE would enable a system of massive data collection on students – potentially including such things as family income range, hair color, blood type, and health-care history – that could then be shared with other government agencies (both federal and in other states) for unspecified purposes. This disclosure of PII could be accomplished without parents’ consent, and in most cases without even their knowledge. And because the data-collection and sharing would begin when the student is in preschool and follow him even through his entry into the workforce, the possibilities of breach of privacy and unwarranted use of data are almost limitless.

The concept of “state longitudinal data systems” (SLDS) is the driving force behind the proposed regulatory changes. In its attempt to further federalize education through Race to the Top and other statutes, DOE wants to construct massive and interconnected data systems that will allow various government agencies – and even private entities, perhaps including employers — to access students’ personal information without the knowledge or consent of the students or their parents. SLDS structures in some states, such as Illinois, already contemplate the sharing of PII for purposes far beyond effective education of children – for example, to create “a network of federal, state, and local offices that . . . facilitate the development of the United States workforce.”Indeed, DOE itself argues that “there is no reason why a State health and human services or labor department, for example, should be precluded from . . . receiving non-consensual disclosures of PII to link education, workforce, health, family services, and other data” for the purpose of “evaluating” education programs. The proposed changes to the FERPA regulations are a blatant attempt to bypass Congress, and therefore the American people, by weakening the privacy law to facilitate radically increased government control over individuals’ lives.

Listed below are some specific objections that can be made to the proposed changes. Comments can be registered at (See below for more specific information for the comment process.) The deadline for commenting is Monday, May 23, 2011.

  • Authorized Representative – DOE proposes to define “authorized representative” (i.e., the individual or entity authorized to receive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on students) in a way that greatly expands the universe of bureaucrats or even private entities that might be allowed to access PII. Throughout FERPA’s existence, DOE has interpreted the statute to allow nonconsensual disclosure of PII only to officials of state or local educational authorities, or to the agencies headed by certain federal officials (Secretary of Education, Comptroller General, or Attorney General). The proposed change would allow any of these people to designate other bureaucrats in other agencies – such as state employment or public-health agencies – or even private entities as “authorized representatives” for purposes of accessing PII. This is a radical change to the interpretation of FERPA, and a substantial limitation on its privacy protections.
  • Education Program – DOE proposes to define “education program” in a way that would further expand the reach of bureaucrats into private student data. The current interpretation of FERPA allows nonconsensual disclosure of PII during audits or evaluations conducted of federally funded “education programs” that are administered by educational authorities. The proposed changes would broaden this PII access to any program that could even be marginally considered “educational,” even if not conducted by an educational authority. The concern is that designating something as an “education program” to be “evaluated” becomes an excuse for gaining access to data from that program.
  • Research Studies – DOE proposes to greatly expand access to PII for use in “research studies.” Currently, FERPA allows nonconsensual disclosure of PII by educational agencies and institutions (with strict limitations) to companies that are conducting research on behalf of those agencies or institutions. The proposed changes would allow agencies further up the food chain – those that receive such PII from other agencies or institutions — to disclose that data for their own research purposes, and to do so without express legal authority. Thus, for example, a school may turn over PII to DOE as part of regular procedure and not be told that DOE is disclosing that data to a research company. And if the school discovered, and objected to, the redisclosure, DOE would not even have to point to an express legal authority for its action. “Implied authority” would be sufficient.
  • Authority to Audit or Evaluate – DOE proposes to allow state or local educational authorities, or agencies headed by the Education Secretary, the Comptroller General, or the Attorney General, to conduct audits, evaluations, or compliance activity without establishing that they have legal authority to do so.The longstanding interpretation of FERPA is that any entity seeking to audit or evaluate a program must cite particular federal, state, or local legal authority for this activity, because FERPA itself confers no such authority. DOE proposes to allow such activities – with their consequent access to PII – to be conducted even by entities that can show no legal right to engage in them. Apparently, “I’m from the government and I’m evaluating this program” will be sufficient to access the data.
  • Enforcement – DOE proposes to extend its FERPA enforcement authority beyond “educational agencies or institutions” to include any other recipients of federal funds that may misuse PII. Such entities might include, for example, student-loan lenders. While DOE’s vast expansion of access to PII would greatly increase the potential for misuse of that data, and therefore would indicate the need for broader enforcement authority, the fact remains that Congress is the only entity that is entitled to make this change. FERPA spells out DOE’s enforcement authority, and DOE cannot change this statutory law merely by changing the regulations.

There are three key points to be made regarding these proposed changes: 1) DOE is weakening longstanding student privacy protections by greatly expanding the universe of individuals and entities who have access to PII, by broadening the definition of programs that might generate data subject to this access, and by eliminating the requirement of express legal authority for certain governmental activities; 2) DOE’s proposed interconnected data systems could be accessed by other departments, such as Labor and Health and Human Services, to facilitate social engineering such as development of the type of “workforce” deemed necessary by the government; and 3) DOE is attempting to evade Congress by pushing through these radical policy changes by regulation rather than legislation.

The document details and the specific language of the FERPA revisions the Department of Education is requesting may be found here:!documentDetail;D=ED-2011-OM-0002-0001

Click on the “comment due” wording and it will take you to the comment form OR
The comment form may be found here:!submitComment;D=ED-2011-OM-0002-0001

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