Wednesday, September 19, 2012

David Scott Edwards, Republican, Senate District 16

1. Opting out of testing. Many parents are concerned that important educational values are being sacrificed because of the use of high-stakes standardized testing to evaluate kids, schools, and educators. Would you support legislation to permit parents to opt their children out of such testing without repercussions?

A: I don't think that students should be able to opt out of testing. The problem with testing is that it has become such an area of emphasis in the public school realm that teachers can no longer teach the curriculum they are hired to teach, but instead must "teach to the test." I believe that students should be tested, but I don't believe the results should be used to evaluate the teacher, rather, they should be used to evaluate holes in the students' learning. Certainly, negative trends that seem to follow a particular teacher would need to be evaluated, but for the most part, I believe if teachers were given the freedom to actually teach to the curriculum, without all the pressure of requirements coming from outside of the local district, then test scores would naturally rise.

2. Cuts in lunch and recess. In our district, the time devoted to recess has been reduced, and the elementary school students get only fifteen minutes or less to eat lunch. District officials attribute those changes directly to state pressure to teach more material and maximize “instructional minutes.” (See posts here and here.) What, if anything, should the state do to remedy the situation?

A: Well, Chris, with the implementation of the new USDA Nutritional Guidelines for school lunches, it will probably take a kid only about 5 minutes to finish his/her school lunch! Talk about ludicrous! Two ounces of meat at lunch for a middle school boy? Just another in a long list of areas where the federal government has no business being involved. But back to your question, I think it is very unrealistic to expect a kid to take only a 15 minute lunch break. Most working adults get a minimum of a 30-minute break. How much more must a child need that break? But again, I believe there is too much pressure from requirements coming from outside of the local district. Districts should refuse the funding that brings along these requirements, and the pressure would be alleviated on everyone.

3. Local control. Because of state and federal regulation, individual communities now have relatively little control over the educational policies that govern their schools, and many parents feel that they have little to no say over what goes on in their kids’ schools. Do you think that local school districts should have more control over educational policy? If so, in what specific ways?

A: I absolutely believe that local school districts should have more control over educational policy. I believe the federal government has no business telling the states what they must teach. But, schools have become so dependent upon that funding that they are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Districts have the right to say "no" to that funding, and thereby say "no" to the educational policies that go along with the funding. It would probably take a revolution from the parents in a district to force schools to stop accepting federal funding. Until such day that districts are ready to put a stop to this outside interference, I believe parents should be given true educational choice through the use of education vouchers.

4. More school? Should state law require all kids to spend more time in school – either by lengthening the school day, extending the school year, or both? (See this post.)

A: No to both. The school day and the school year both keep getting longer; schools keep getting more money; but student performance keeps declining. Lengthening the school day is not the key to improving performance.

5. PBIS. The state Department of Education wants to require all school districts to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a program that uses material rewards to train kids to reflexively obey school rules. (See posts here and here.) Do you support requiring all school districts to use PBIS?

A: This whole philosophy is ludicrous. I think all we need to do is look back to the past to what worked in days gone by to find the solution to school discipline problems. There was a time when disrespectful, disruptive and aggressive behavior was not tolerated and there were negative repercussions for those who chose to misbehave. Working in the schools, I see firsthand that current philosopy has teachers' hands tied - they effectively have no recourse when students misbehave. I believe students, and ultimately their parents, should be held accountable for their negative behaviors. Most importantly, the state DOE has no business regulating districts' behavior policies.

6. Class size. Do you agree with our state Director of Education that we should tolerate larger class sizes in exchange for programs designed to “improve educator effectiveness”?

A: No, I do not think this is good tradeoff. Again, because I work in a school district, I see firsthand that there is so much inefficiency in my local school district. I am sure it is probably the same everywhere. School districts need to get more money into classrooms and less in the form of supervision and administration. I am sure that parents would rather see another teacher hired at their school to alleviate crowded classrooms than they would see more administrators hired, or increases to administrator pay as was proposed here in Des Moines this summer. I don't think we should tolerate any attempt to increase class sizes.

7. No Child Left Behind. Have No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top done more harm than good, or vice versa? Should Iowa opt out of No Child Left Behind, even if it means forgoing federal funds?

A: Again, I am against federal intervention in K-12 education. I do think these programs have done more harm than good in that they take away the autonomy of the local school district. Yes, I believe Iowa should opt out of NCLB.

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