Iowa education reforms make sense, for now

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed a reform plan for the state’s public schools. It includes higher teacher pay and bonuses for teachers who act as mentors for their younger colleagues.

The governor’s plan also includes expansion of online learning and updating the state’s school assessment system.

We believe Branstad is being sensible in his approach, given the constraints of the existing system and political realities.

He would boost the minimum teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000. Mentor-teachers could earn up to $10,000 in bonuses.

Money, of course, makes a difference, if a system is truly underfunded. That seems to be at least partially true in Iowa. The worry for reformers and taxpayers is that the fresh infusion of funds does not attract quality teachers or retain good ones; or that the money is just “gravy” in the system, in that it has no impact on teacher performance or student results.

There is another worry. All of the new funding perpetuates a model of public schooling that may prove out of date in coming years. As more states experiment with charter schools, student vouchers, online schools and other reforms, the familiar public school classroom may become obsolete. In fact, some reformers hope and suspect that is exactly the case.

Iowa, and other states, won’t have to worry if they can remain flexible. They have to watch to see what works elsewhere and be willing to implement the new norms.