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Senate OKs scaled-back education overhaul effort

April 10, 2012

DES MOINES - The Iowa Senate approved an education reform bill Monday that would give public school teachers more time to collaborate with their colleagues through peer reviews.

The measure, passed on a 26-24 vote, will return to the House, which previously approved a sharply different version.

Gov. Terry Branstad and Republicans who hold a House majority back a measure that calls for third-graders to meet reading benchmarks before advancing to the next grade level and for 11th graders to take competency tests in core subjects.

None of those proposals made it through the Senate. Instead, its version puts a stronger focus on reading in early elementary grades, and expands core classes to include the arts and technology. It also calls for more collaboration between teachers and allows schools to establish programs with families of struggling students.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the bill's proposals have been shown to help students. He also said there is little evidence that more testing helps students develop.

"These comprehensive reforms build on reforms I have supported in recent years, and they are based on what I learned at local schools and town-hall meetings in my district," Quirmbach said.

A final version must be bargained between the House and Senate, and it won't be easy.

Branstad was dismissive of the Senate's version Monday, calling it "watered-down." He has been pushing for an overhaul of the state's schools for almost a year, and says it's his top priority for the session.

Last summer, the governor convened a summit meeting of education experts from around the world, saying he was worried that Iowa student test scores had once been the best in the nation, but had fallen to the middle of the pack.

That summit led a package calling for tougher testing for students, and better training and evaluation of teachers.

Quirmbach said Monday that all sides agree on the need to overhaul schools, but disagree on the best way to go about that.

"Iowa must continue to be home to world-class schools," Quirmbach said. "That's part of building a competitive, growing state economy with good jobs and good wages. "

Time is running out to address education reform, as lawmakers had hoped to end this year's session next week.



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