Director Wise: Looking at education through a different lens
I have learned over the last two-and-a-half years as director of the Iowa Department of Education that this role has a rhythm. Summer provides time for reflection in the midst of a rush to close out the fiscal year. Fall focuses on the launch of a new school year and brings countless opportunities to spend time in schools. Winter welcomes legislators back to the state Capitol, and spring (like the weather in Iowa) swirls a bit of everything together.
Each seasonal change brings different perspectives more clearly into focus. This fall, I visited 25 school districts and heard from hundreds of educators on challenges and opportunities they see in their schools. In December, I had the pleasure of hosting Senator Amy Sinclair, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Walt Rogers, chair of the House Education Committee, at the Department of Education.
Legislators and educators often view issues through different lenses. As my former professor Jal Mehta states in The Allure of Order, “Policymakers see general properties of schools, things that can be counted and measured from afar. School people see the particulars; they may know little to nothing about the school landscape as a whole, but they know much, including much that is not easily measured, about the schools in which they sit.”
The Iowa Department of Education fills the space between policymakers and educators. When I became director, I collaborated with Department staff to articulate our five critical functions. First on the list was partnering with stakeholders to effectively implement federal and state education policy. The Department works hard to understand and, when appropriate, to help shape education policy so that we can assist schools when it comes to the critical work of implementation.
I’ve seen many examples of policymakers and teachers working to understand each other’s perspective. I’ve enjoyed accompanying Governor Reynolds on many school visits. I appreciate her authentic enthusiasm for expanding Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) opportunities for all students, and I find her belief in, and support of, teacher leadership inspiring.
I also enjoy working with legislators on committees. An example is the recent Computer Science Education Work Group. Representatives Monica Kurth and Tom Moore and Senators Rita Hart and Amy Sinclair joined alongside educators and business leaders from across the state to develop a set of recommendations for advancing computer science education in Iowa. This was a powerful example of how we can work together to build the connections between educators and policymakers.
As we begin a new year and a new legislative session, I look forward to supporting our legislators as they seek information to make informed policy choices and to helping educators as they implement those policies. Continued collaboration across role boundaries will ensure Iowa continues to provide a world-class education for all students.