February 18, 2013

STORM LAKE - Teachers and school administrators from western Iowa aired their support and disdain for a number of school-related concerns on Saturday at Buena Vista University in a conference meant to help them share ideas about some of the biggest challenges schools face.

About 140 gathered at the Education Camp Iowa conference that day to talk about: collaboration among schools, making social studies relevant in a math or science world, how to implement one-to-one initiatives in schools, what would happen if there were no class periods, student-led and digital literacy, competency-based education, learning to write for tomorrow, digital citizenship, and flexible scheduling, among others.

One session titled "Sucks or Doesn't Suck" let people give their frank assessments of several hot-button issues:

- Performance-based teacher pay, a proposed system that rewards teachers of well-performing students: There was little consensus on the right way to pay teachers. Several teachers said they don't like the current way teachers are paid that is based on years of experience, but they also saw drawbacks to getting paid based on standardized test scores or by administrator discretion, which they said could destroy relationships among teachers and administrators.

- Facebook and other online social-media websites in schools: Facebook is an issue in several schools because students use it to chat during class, and some administrators were worried about how they would deal with cyber bullying on Facebook. Other school leaders argued in favor of Facebook because it can be a quick way to share work with peers.

- Report cards: About half of the 20 people involved in the debate were against report cards because they said the reports cannot quickly correct under-performing students. Teachers argued that by the time a report card gets sent home, there's not much that can be done to change a student's grade. Others favored report cards because they are still the most-effective way to get parents involved in a child's education.

- Teacher professional development days: Teachers and administrators agreed that professional development needs some work to make it a more effective tool. They said small school districts are unable to tailor the teacher-learning sessions to the narrow needs of each teacher. They wondered whether districts could jointly offer the professional development sessions in which those who teach subjects like math or science would learn something different than those who teach art or music.

- The Iowa Core, a statewide curriculum: Teachers who were for the Iowa Core said it outlines what students should know and doesn't let schools fall behind. Teachers who were against the common core argued that nothing is being done with the students who are falling behind so it doesn't really matter.

- Standardized tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills: Some teachers see standardized tests do more harm than good - that they are just another chance to fail and don't measure what's important. Others said it's important to have a common metric to measure student achievement, but that students shouldn't be judged solely based on the tests.

Saturday's conference was the first time Education Camp Iowa was held at two locations on the same day. Teachers in eastern Iowa met in Bettendorf.

The education camps were open to all school personnel, community members and legislators.