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30. A New Start in Iowa

Already, three days into his job as the State Director of Education in Iowa, Jason Glass was looking torward the future.

“I’m a risk-taker,” he says, “not afraid to fail.”

Before taking the post in Iowa, Glass served as the Senior Director of Human Capital Strategy at Battelle for Kids providing guidance on performance based compensation approaches for educators. Tennessee and Ohio won funds from Race to the Top to explore this collaborative system, which raises base pay for teachers and then looks at how collaborative creativity and innovation can be measured for merit.

“Performance-based compensation is one strategy to recruit, retain, and reward our teachers,” Education Commissioner Bruce Opie said. “Tennessee is increasing our efforts to find and support the best possible talent for our schools, and we expect alternative compensation systems to encourage the same in return.”

$12,000,000 will be dispersed over the course of a 1-year planning period and 3 years of implementation in awarded school systems. This idea is controversial, like many others that don’t fall neatly within the framework of the traditionalists, who tend to believe that with more funding, the current system can adequately prepare American students, or the reformers who lean toward the idea that nothing short of a radical overhaul can prepare students to compete not only against their American peers but globally, in the midst a state of rapid global transformation.

“Almost everyone wants our schools to be better, but almost no one wants them to be different.”

–Tommy Bice, Alabama Deputy State Superintendent of Education

Since taking the job, Glass has been hit with a wave of requests from the state level all the way down the local level and from everywhere in between. He’s on the road constantly, meeting with people, learning about Iowa.

“My view constantly switches from 30,000 feet above down to the ground view, and it changes every few seconds,” he says. “In Iowa, people love kids and they love schools. So it goes from being emotional engagement on this level one minute to a legal or technical decision the next, or a free speech or charter school issue or a funding concern. It zooms back and forth.”

Glass came to Iowa at a time when test scores are stagnant, school leaders face more state spending cuts and declining enrollment, school mergers are coming and educators struggle with implementing meaningful new attempts to shift thinking rather than paying lip service to the idea. There’s an achievement gap. Glass has a three point plan in place bring improvement to the state’s education system:

  1. Innovation: to encourage, incentivize and empower from the state level
  2. Human Capital: strong teacher recruitment for “more capable, brighter people” augmented by a collaborative approach to merit compensation
  3. Survival: as states deal with slashed budgets, Iowa has remained somewhat less vulnerable due to local agribusiness but still faces the same crisis plaguing the entire nation

“It’s easy to be one way or the other–a traditionalist or a reformer– but I’m in the middle, which is almost more dangerous, because there’s no gang in the middle,” Glass says. “we need to be able to take every kid and say ‘we can take you where you are and help you,’ but also, the system needs to change.”

At Rockefeller Center, he says, there’s a frieze with a scriptural statement on it:

“Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”

Across the street from Rockefeller Center at the LEGO store, Glass adds, a mural faces off with a playful dragon in lieu of a bolt tossing deity and a new slogan:

Imagination and creativity shall be the stability of thy times.”

Before Glass started, a movement was already underway in the state to transform certain districts into 1:1 environments in which each student has a laptop. John C. Carver is the district superintendent in Van Meter, Iowa, one of the first districts to spearhead the program.

“When they hired me here in Van Meter, they said they wanted change. That’s why I came here,” says Carver.

Carver believes that we’re at another “printing press moment” in the history of the world and that “the days of training people to work on an assembly line are over.”

The state’s goal, Carver says, is to show that the emerging 21st century workforce will come from Iowa.

“We want to lead the world with kids learning digitally and linking up globally,” he says. “We need to create a system that supports imagination and creativity. We can do this with passion, through a shift in energy. There’s no way it’s going to stop. It’s slow going now, but this is a great awakening, like Rip Van Winkle waking up in Iowa. This transformation will spread through the US and it will spread through the globe. This is real.”

Have you seen the same nascent seeds of transformation taking root in your own school, district, region or state?

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