(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry Branstad Friday addressed the Urban Institute Education Panel in Washington, D.C. Gov. Branstad, who is in Washington, D.C. for National Governors Association meetings, discussed his ambitious education reform plan of action and the privately-led and publicly-endorsed Healthiest State Initiative.
In the speech, Gov. Branstad said, “Our young people must be able to compete in a demanding global economy. Our state’s economic well-being depends on a highly educated workforce.
“Finding the courage to change is not easy, but it is essential, so Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and I are working to build the broadest possible coalition of Iowans to urge the state’s legislators to take bold action. While it takes leadership from the governor’s office and the Legislature to move a state toward major reform, it takes the political will of the people to see it through long-term.”
Branstad highlighted Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative by saying, “The simple truth is Iowa must become healthier because we cannot afford any other option. But we can save more than just money, we can save lives.
“I truly believe these efforts will lead to a healthier Iowa, physically and economically.”
The Urban Institute will be live streaming the event at 1:45 p.m. (CDT)/2:45 p.m. (EST). Interested parties can watch the stream here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/urban-institute-events.
The following is the text of Gov. Branstad’s remarks as prepared for delivery and is embargoed until 1:45 p.m. (CDT)/2:45 p.m. (EST) on Friday, February 24, 2012:
Thank you for inviting me to this first in a series of Urban Institute forums on “Making Government Work.”
It is an honor to be with all of you, including my longtime friend, Ray Scheppach, whom I worked with when I chaired the National Governors Association.
Today, I’ll discuss my administration’s ambitious education reform package, which is now in the Iowa Legislature, and our Healthiest State in the Nation initiative, an exciting public-private partnership.
Continual improvement in education should be a priority for every state. Kids from every background – from urban America to rural America – need policy makers to embrace continual improvement in education.
In my fifth term as governor of Iowa, I have the advantage of perspective, which is especially useful in crafting education policy.
In some ways, that long view is what’s driving my agenda to restore Iowa schools to best in the nation, and give Iowa students a world-class education.
So let’s look back briefly.
In 1983 the report, “A Nation at Risk,” came out during my first year as governor. It should have been a clear warning sign to me and every other governor.
Some states acted on a variety of approaches to school reform. Some states even took bold steps.
Unfortunately, Iowa was not bold, when it came to education reform decisions, and my state did not continually assess our strategic goals and vision.
What changed, on my part? Awareness that we must provide all children with a globally competitive education, so they are ready for the demands of the 21st century workforce.
We can’t afford to waste the talents of a single student.
So now, we are working to find the right balance between assuring statewide educational equity for all students, while encouraging local innovation that meets local needs.
What has not changed? One of Iowa’s great strengths is our enduring tradition of valuing education. I am counting on that to move us forward.
In 1987, for example, the Iowa Legislature passed my $100 million Excellence in Education Act, during the Farm Crisis.
The Act raised beginning and veteran teacher pay, and made a sizeable investment in professional development for teachers.
It was a significant commitment to attract and retain talented educators, and help them improve their craft.
The Act was a good step forward. But in hindsight, Iowa needed to do much more than we realized then.
Massachusetts passed its landmark 1993 education reform act that began to remake the education landscape.
Massachusetts emphasized accountability for student learning and high statewide standards for students, educators, and schools.
Meanwhile, in the early 1990s, Iowa was an academic star on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often called the nation’s report card.
In 1992, Iowa was No. 1 in eighth-grade math on NAEP and a top performer in fourth-grade reading.
We took a lot of pride in those rankings, and other indications that Iowa had perhaps the best education system in the nation.
As a result, however, we became complacent. We failed to put in place education reforms adopted by some others states that have surged past Iowa on NAEP over the last two decades, most notably Massachusetts.
Today, Massachusetts is No. 1 in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading on NAEP, while Iowa ranks 25th in eighth-grade math and 29th in fourth-grade reading.
I take some of the blame for Iowa’s slide in the rankings – for not realizing sooner that sticking with the status quo would eventually put Iowa at a disadvantage.
So, during this fifth term as governor, my long-term perspective increases my determination to look squarely to the future for the sake of Iowa’s young people.
Our young people must be able to compete in a demanding global economy. Our state’s economic well-being depends on a highly educated workforce.
Restoring Iowa to best in the nation, to give Iowa youngsters a world-class education was one of my campaign promises in 2010.
Once elected, I laid the groundwork for change with dozens of town hall meetings and roundtable discussions with teachers, business leaders and others, leading up to, and following, the Iowa Education Summit in Des Moines last July.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan keynoted the summit, with other speakers and panelists coming from diverse geographies and perspectives. The summit drew an audience of about 1,600 people.
I followed that with my administration’s far-reaching blueprint for education reform released Oct. 1.
Next, we took that blueprint on the road to hear Iowans’ ideas for how to improve it. Between myself, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and others in my administration, we held more than 50 town hall meetings and other events in just a few months.
Then we revised the blueprint, and presented a final package of education reforms for the 2012 Legislature to consider.
The blueprint adapts best practices that have worked elsewhere in high-performing school systems around the globe, while assuring that they are the right fit for Iowa.
The blueprint’s focus is threefold: (1) Getting a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal leading every building; (2) Setting high standards, with strong, matching assessments; and (3) encouraging innovation that boosts learning.
Here are some of the highlights:
Becoming more selective about who can become a teacher, including requiring a college “B” grade-point average for admission to teacher preparation programs.
Annual evaluations for teachers, instead of every three years, with stronger emphasis on student achievement growth.
Reducing seniority’s dominance in lay-off decisions.
Freeing up principals to be instructional leaders by training other personnel to take on administrative duties, such as daily bus transportation and lunchroom issues.
Clarifying the Iowa Core, Iowa’s state academic standards.
Expanding the Iowa Core to include world languages, character education, entrepreneurship education, physical education, music and other fine arts, and applied arts.
Assessments that better identify student strengths and weaknesses, so teachers can provide more personalized instruction, from a kindergarten readiness assessment that would be given in preschool to high school exit exams in core subjects.
A third-grade literacy initiative, which puts greater emphasis on teaching reading skills starting in kindergarten, through first, second and third grades, working more closely with parents, and using retention as a last resort if children are illiterate at the end of third grade.
A broader path for establishing charter schools.
Competency-based learning, to allow students to earn credit if they can test out of subjects so they can take more challenging courses sooner.
And a fund that rewards innovative proposals by school districts working with businesses, nonprofits and others that come up with creative solutions to local problems, with the potential for scale up around the state.
This is just the first year of what will need to be a decade-long education reform effort in Iowa. The price tag is $25 million for year one – $17 million in new money and $8 million repurposed funds.
Next year, we plan to introduce a teacher leadership and compensation structure to give teachers greater support in order to improve instruction and achievement.
It is clear that this education reform effort must be sustainable beyond my administration and this legislative session.
A focus on continual improvement is a hallmark of high-performing school systems and needs to be engrained in our culture.
Yet there is considerable resistance. Some Iowans want to maintain the status quo.
Finding the courage to change is not easy, but it is essential, so Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and I are working to build the broadest possible coalition of Iowans to urge the state’s legislators to take bold action.
While it takes leadership from the governor’s office and the Legislature to move a state toward major reform, it takes the political will of the people to see it through long-term.
Now I want to shift to a discussion of wellness. Helping citizens become healthier is another challenge faced by every state.
I left Des Moines University, or DMU, – a medical teaching college – to again run for Governor.
At DMU, I gained an appreciation for the importance of wellness in reducing health care costs and thus creating a healthier and more productive workforce.
At DMU, we took steps to help improve the health of our students.
We eliminated tobacco on our campus, built a state-of-the-art fitness center and made wellness central not only to our health plan, but to our curriculum.
We didn’t just want to teach wellness, we wanted to live it.
I continue to have access to the fitness center – which is only a few blocks from the Governor’s residence. Most mornings, before heading to the Capitol, you’ll find me at the Fitness Center.
Because of our work at DMU, our school was the first college or university named a platinum wellness workplace by the Wellness Council of America.
As Governor, I wanted to set a similarly ambitious goal to encourage Iowans to take ownership of their own health and set a goal that would be embraced by the public and private sectors.
This past August, I set the ambitious goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
Right now, more than one-third of third through fifth graders in Iowa are overweight or at risk. According to the CDC, 29% of Iowans are obese.
And think about this, if we as a state can simply maintain our current rate of overweight Iowans, we will save $16 billion over the next five years.
The healthiest state initiative has inspired Iowans, young and old to come together and make wellness a priority.
One classroom in West Des Moines was inspired by the first walk and now tracks their walking each day.
They have a goal of walking one million football fields and, so far, have walked more than 25,000 miles combined.
The simple truth is Iowa must become healthier because we cannot afford any other option.
But we can save more than just money, we can save lives.
Our Healthiest State Initiative is a public-private partnership that engages Iowans at a grass roots level.
We have small businesses, large businesses and government on board as partners; and our communities are coming together in exciting ways.
We want to shine the light on existing programs that are already successful and encourage communities to become Blue Zones.
The Start Somewhere Walks had more than 291,000 Iowans participate – nearly one in every ten Iowans.
I truly believe these efforts will lead to a healthier Iowa, physically and economically.
We must align our educational system to ensure that we have the workforce of the future and we must develop a culture of health wellness to nurture the long-term health of our citizenry and budgets.
Our children’s well-being is the foundation of a vibrant economy and democracy.
It’s my privilege and my responsibility to work to strengthen that foundation.
Thank you all again for the opportunity to speak today. I look forward to your questions.