Opinion: Kim Reynolds’ priority in hiring new Iowa education chief was clear

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Usually, those responsible for hiring the replacement for an important CEO take stock of the most important challenges facing the company or organization to make sure that the new CEO will have the background to successfully confront at least some of those challenges. But Gov. Kim Reynolds appears not to have considered any of the most important challenges in Iowa education while appointing the new Director of the Iowa Department of Education.

For example, the governor could have looked for demonstrated expertise and experience in improving student performance, since Iowa has struggled to advance student achievement in the face of huge changes in the academic needs of students. There has been a 50% increase in students who come from families in poverty (and increasingly from deeper levels of poverty) in the last 21 years, and the percentage of children whose families have spoken little English has more than doubled in the same period.

The governor could have looked for expertise in early childhood care and development since programs in that arena are often the most effective first line of defense in providing support to children and their parents in combating long-term educational disfunction and the subsequent problems in the later life of those children. The governor could have looked for experience that would address the exploding need for mental health support that would alleviate the growing challenges now faced by Iowa teachers.

If providing assistance to children from struggling families or to the teachers whose mission is to help them seems like too much of a socialist effort, then the governor could have chosen a director with strong expertise and successful experience in developing or using technology that could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of student learning.

What about choosing a director with demonstrated experience linking education and workforce development?  Iowa business leaders have consistently pointed to the skills mismatch of available workers with the skills needed to grow our economy.  Iowa has formed strong bonds between school districts and an excellent system of community colleges with more high school students earning postsecondary credit than other states.  What about working to encourage participation in the career tracks that would be the most rewarding for students and for Iowa’s economy?

Instead of choosing a leader for the Iowa Department of Education who would have demonstrated competence to face any of these current critical education issues, the governor chose an individual well qualified to navigate policy that financially rewards the 10% of families that prefer private education for their children. Not that there is anything wrong with parents making that choice, as my personal experience will attest. But the governor’s choice seems to prioritize her political needs far ahead of the needs of Iowa’s students.

Ted Stilwill
Ted Stilwill

Ted Stilwill of Omaha was director of the Iowa Department of Education from 1994 to 2004, under Gov. Terry Branstad and Gov. Tom Vilsack.  He is also a former teacher and school administrator in the Council Bluffs Community Schools.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: Kim Reynolds’ priority in hiring education chief was clear