Shane Vander Hart recently wrote a piece for his very entertaining and thought provoking blog, Caffeinated Thoughts responding to my remarks at the 2011 SAI Annual Conference.

After gently letting left-leaning Jennifer Hemmingsen have it over her coverage of education policy in Iowa, I would stand to lose my “I don’t give a damn about politics, let’s improve schools” credentials if I didn’t give right-leaning Shane Vander Hart the same treatment.

Let’s first set the record straight about the Iowa Core and the Common Core. I don’t expect Shane and I to ever see eye to eye on this and that’s ok – in this country we are free to disagree and are better from an open exchange of ideas. As I understand it, Shane’s position is that the Iowa Core/Common Core is some sort of Obama-driven-federal-takeover-plot aimed at indoctrinating your children to love Chairman Mao and slowly transform this country into North Korea. OK, I may have embellished that last statement … slightly (apologies Shane – just having some fun at your expense!).

Where does this conspiracy theory drivel come from? The fact is that the National Common Core was and remains a STATE led (not a federal government) initiative. The Common Core represents student expectations in reading and math that are on par with the highest performing systems in the world and also represent the kinds of skills our students are going to need to be competitive in a global context. The fact is that a common thread among the highest performing school systems in the world is the adoption of clear and rigorous standards for all students (see example after example in Michael Fullan’s latest work and in Marc Tucker’s analysis of high performing school systems).

Shane goes on to (falsely) state the the Iowa Department of Education and the State Board had no authority from the legislature to establish the Iowa Core or merge it with the Common Core. This is just silliness about the authority to enact the Iowa Core (which contains the Common Core as its Math and English/Language Arts elements). The fact is that the Iowa legislature gave the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa State Board the directive to establish the Core. To the point that this wan’t an open process, all of the State Board’s steps to include the Common Core in the Iowa Core were public proceedings, as is every action taken by the Board. Sorry Shane, this is within the lines.

Shane goes on to make the dreadfully predictable case that I am pushing for some sort of hyper-centralized school system. Actually, as I’ve stated many times before and stated in my remarks to the SAI Administrators, I’m calling for a reasonable balance of all the players in the education system. Each part has an important role to play, and Iowa’s schools will be best served if all the parts are working together and in symphony.

Governor Branstad was clear to me about my role in Iowa: Make these schools among the best in the world. That happens by building capacity at ALL levels and focusing the whole system on carefully selected strategies tailored to this context. It will not happen by closing your eyes and hoping all 350 districts in the state of Iowa spontaneously pull off becoming a world-class system on their own through some miraculous convergence.

Improvement to put Iowa on par with the highest performing systems in the world takes an intentional and focused effort. Raising useless and worn out rhetoric about government takeovers, “indoctrination,” and “educrats” just regurgitates political soundbites and does little to move Iowa forward to being a great school system.

We do need to build up and support local capacity – but we also need to focus our efforts in a way that makes this fractured patchwork of schools start to move as a system.

Jason Glass
Des Moines, IA