Pella Chronicle

August 28, 2009

McKinley’s Memos

Paul McKinley - Senate Republican Leader

It’s that time of year again. Students are busy relishing their waning moments of summer - a time that only seemed to quickly fly right on by. Soon, Tuesday evenings will be filled with cross country meets, Friday nights under the lights will bring communities together to root for the school’s football team, volleyball teams will bring gymnasiums back to life and marching bands and cheerleaders will delight crowds with pep and familiar tunes. Yet, most importantly, students will once again tackle tests and textbooks and await the newest lessons from teachers and professors.

Because the education of our youth is so important to the future of our communities, our state and the generations that will come after them, we must ensure that we are providing world-class education that prepares the students of today to be the innovators and leaders of tomorrow. A vibrant future rests with having a well educated populace that can keep our economy prosperous, our communities thriving and our families healthy.

Today, 20 to 25 percent of our students are one year or more below grade level. This drastic change in direction is one of the leading reasons why our eighth graders in 1993 were first in mathematics but have now fallen to 25th. We have spent billions of dollars and yet student achievement has stagnated and in many instances declined. The 2008 Iowa Condition of Education Report shows student proficiency has decreased over the past year in fourth grade reading, fourth grade math, eleventh grade reading and eleventh grade math.

I believe it is time to bring about real education reform, make our state competitive again and give our students the tools they need to be successful in this ever-changing economy. Reversing Iowa’s negative education trends will mean we need to shift back to the core basics and fundamentals of education and away from harmful gimmicks.

One, in particular, was a gimmick known as “Whole Language” that was resulting in about one quarter of our children not mastering the skill of reading. I believe there is no skill more important than having the ability to read because if a student cannot read ˆ a student cannot learn. All of these gimmicks and fads are causing our children to fall behind in a world fast becoming more and more competitive every day.

These harmful fads and gimmicks have ultimately led to a serious disconnect between two groups who have competing visions of what the role of education should be. On one hand, parents, employers and community leaders believe the purpose of education is to develop and prepare students to be productive citizens and possess the skills and knowledge to compete in the global marketplace. One the other hand, the elite educational establishment which includes education theorists, union bosses, education bureaucrats and high priced consultants believe the purpose of education is to foster equality, diversity, social justice and self-esteem.

Unfortunately, the education elite have become successful in pushing their agenda and meeting their goals while parents, community leaders and employers have been left out of the equation. Education has become an act of social engineering with an emphasis on driving social policy at the expense of having students master the skills of reading, writing, math and science. Educating our children is no longer an academic endeavor ˆ it often seems more of a social experiment.

I firmly believe that Iowa has a wonderful educational heritage and we need to get back to the basics of focusing on reading, writing, math and science instead of focusing on social engineering in our schools. When we get back to the basics, we will again be able to put our students first by preparing them to be productive citizens who possess the necessary skills and knowledge to compete with any one else in the world. As it stands now, the rest of the world is leaving America behind and the rest of America is starting to leave Iowa behind. Simply spending more money is not the answer.

Though I believe it is important to point out some of the places where our current education system is not accomplishing its intended goals, it is just as important to offer realistic solutions that accomplish fundamental education reform. In order to do that, we need to pursue several major areas of reform. In an upcoming installment of McKinley’s Memos, I will lay out a bold vision for reforming education in Iowa. Simply spending more money is not the answer.

Our children and grandchildren are our most precious resource. Providing better quality education for the generations that are yet to come should be our goal and it is the path we must pursue if we are to be successful in giving future Iowans an even better state than the one we are so privileged to call home.

As always, I welcome hearing from you and can be reached by phone at 515-281-3560 or by e-mail at paul.mckinley@ legis.state.ia.us