Veteran educator Jane Schmidt, the director of professional growth and student learning in the Maquoketa Community School District, is a strong voice of support for the Iowa Core, also known as the Iowa standards. She dedicated her 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year role to speak at schools throughout the state about the merits of the standards.
Schmidt now posts a monthly blog on the Iowa Core website, which is meant for anyone – educators, parents, students and other stakeholders – who wants to learn more.
Below are some thoughts Schmidt shares about Iowa’s standards.
In your extensive travels around the state, was it your impression that the Iowa standards were being unpacked uniformly?
In my travels I noticed that the unpacking of standards varied from district to district. Some districts received extensive guidance in this process while others were approaching this process in a different way. With the rollout of the new Iowa Science Standards, I see a concerted effort by the Iowa AEAs and the Iowa Department of Education to provide similar services across the state. This will assist in a consistent unpacking and implementation of these standards.
What was a common thread among educators when it came to the Iowa Core? What did they have to say about it?
Responses to the Iowa Core varied. In my visits, the most positive responses were with the literacy standards. I talked to many who were happy to see consistency in standard implementation and connections made to all subject areas. Math is still an area that has some contention because it requires a significant change in how instruction is delivered. The delivery of math standards varies from district to district and the AEAs can help a great deal in providing consistency in this area. Making a change is always difficult - some embrace change while other resist, but providing our students with rigorous standards is a change we all must make if we are to prepare them for the future.
If an educator is having problems incorporating the standards in a classroom, what would you suggest s/he do first? And then what?
If an educator is having problems incorporating the standards, I would suggest s/he collaborate with others in the district and with other districts to gather ideas on implementation. I also would suggest s/he explore the Iowa Core website for additional ideas. There are great resources provided to guide this process. S/he should also explore books that provide guidance with implementation of standards. The AEAs have an extensive library where books can be checked out to further knowledge on core instruction.
Why are you such a fan of the standards?
For several years I was involved in writing curriculum in our district. When we were developing standards with benchmarks and objectives, I would ask, "Why don't we get documents from high-performing districts and use theirs in our district?" The answer was always the same, a desire for local control. My vision was for consistent and rigorous standards so all students in Iowa would be prepared for today's global society. These high expectations are the same for all students no matter their zip code. The Iowa Core is the first step in meeting this vision. We know that from district to district there is now a common vocabulary used at each grade level so in our mobile society, as families move to another Iowa district, they will receive similar rigorous expectations. The curriculum (books and resources used) will not be the same because that is locally controlled, but what students are expected to do with those resources - expectations for application - will be similar. I have presented to many community groups on Iowa Core and have received positive responses. My advice to community members who are concerned about the Iowa Core is to visit the Iowa Core website and examine the standards. It is a way for everyone to understand what the standards are asking in the way of application of learning.
Some may view the standards as the “initiative du jour.” What would you say to them?
I would say this is not a passing initiative. This is a change in how we do business in Iowa. It provides the application, the purpose, of how we expect students to apply their learning across content areas and in the real world. Other states have had state standards for some time. With the Iowa Core, our state now has state standards which provide consistency in application of what is being learned by our students.
What do you foresee the standards doing for education in Iowa in the short term? In the long term?
In the short term, I believe the standards are the backbone of instructional discussion as we seek to meet the needs of our students. In the long term, I see them as a work in progress. Community input is always welcome through a vetting process with the approval of standards. We will continue to improve on the Iowa Core and seek ways to prepare our students for life in the 21st Century. In the long term, it is a way for all subject areas to see their connections so there is consistency from class to class, across a district, and across our state.