Educators at Iowa’s ‘failing schools’ say they are used as part of political agenda

How do educators at 34 Iowa schools feel about spending the past year hearing elected officials say they are running “failing schools”? Leaders at 13 schools explained the shortcomings of the metric that assigned them the “failing” label, as well as the unique challenges students and staff confronted — even before legislation introduced at the Statehouse singled them out as places where families could get state assistance to leave, they told IowaWatch. “Failing schools” is hyperbole for schools designated by the state as “comprehensive.” These are the Title I schools that score in the bottom 5 percent in the state based on students’ performance on the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress test, and/or for high schools, have a graduation rate below 67.1 percent. IowaWatch in a year-long investigation found that although each state is required to identify the bottom-scoring 5 percent of Title I schools every three years, it doesn’t mean these schools are “failing.”

A common misconception is that all schools are the same, said Jason Aker, principal of Baxter Elementary School in Baxter. “‘Thirty-four failing schools’ is a really crummy way of saying that, because the answer is simple; it’s the bottom 5 percent.

Evans: State government may be harming Iowa population challenges

I stumbled across a statistical tidbit the other day that probably will surprise many people. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that between 1900 and 2000, the state that grew the least in population, on a percentage basis, was Iowa. Read that again. No state had smaller population growth between 1900 and 2000, as a percentage, than Iowa. Not North Dakota.

Evans: Senate change won’t better inform Iowans

Typically, in the days leading up to the start of a new session of the Iowa Legislature, the attention is on lawmakers’ goals and priorities — and on the pledges they make to work together for the good of the people of Iowa. This year, however, Republican leaders who control the Iowa Senate announced a controversial decision that erases more than a century of openness — evicting journalists from the floor of the Senate chamber. This ill-conceived action makes Iowa an outlier among the legislatures in the 50 states. You could count on one hand those that do not allow journalists on the floor of their legislative chambers. Nowhere in their decision do Senate leaders pretend this change will better inform the people of Iowa about the important work the Senate does.

Iowa’s outdoor recreation trust fund is empty. Will lawmakers change that?

Four Iowa legislators and two conservation advocates want funding for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund – which has stayed empty since it was approved by voters in 2010. They shared their sentiments with IowaWatch as the state of Iowa ended the fiscal year 2021 with a surplus of $1.24 billion — the largest surplus in state history. 

There’s discussion already about that surplus as lawmakers return to the Statehouse Jan. 10. 

Will funding the trust fund be a priority in 2022? Lawmakers from both major parties say natural resources deserve attention but they are unsure given interest in tax cuts. Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-District 22, sees the excess surplus dollars as an opportunity to support Iowa’s 83 state parks and recreation areas, but is concerned with the current projection of how the Iowa Legislature will use the surplus. 

“We saw in the last two years with a pandemic how our state parks have been such an important resource for Iowans.

Evans: Americans are slow to grasp this extreme danger

Something came out of Colorado last week besides images of the destruction from a rapidly developing wildfire that roared through the area between Denver and Boulder. The fires consumed upwards of 1,000 homes in the suburban subdivisions of the Rockies’ eastern foothills in just a few hours. Besides the stunning devastation, the wild weather brought important insight, too. Even people who live a thousand miles away should reflect on what occurred — because the significance of the day’s events needs to be a wake-up call for all Americans. The people who lived through the nightmare give us important context.

Evans: Justice in Iowa vs. Minnesota justice

Minnesota and its government officials delivered an important lesson recently on how to provide justice — and their lesson should be taken to heart by their neighbors in Iowa. The contrast is jarring between the way government handled the deaths of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., and Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa. One was shot to death while trying to evade arrest. The other was the unintended victim of a fatal shooting. Iowans should be uncomfortable with the questions that grow naturally out of these contrasts.