Iowa Groups Form Corporation To Oversee Reforms

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A broad-based coalition of education and business groups in Iowa last week formed a private corporation to coordinate statewide school reform and to latch onto educational initiatives emerging from Washington.

The New Iowa Schools Development Corporation will serve as "a war room" for statewide reform efforts, participants said.

The new corporation is patterned partly on the New American Schools Development Corporation, which was formed by the private sector this summer as part of President Bush's America 2000 initiative.

The Iowa group plans to dispatch consultants and funds to districts and schools that are attempting to implement the national education goals and overhaul the way they teach.

"By networking, using facilitators, providing training and stimulus, and holding conferences, we can keep districts thinking, moving, planning, and worrying about where the next change is going to have to be made," said Gerald Ott, an implementation specialist at the Iowa State Education Association and the group's interim executive director.

The corporation will also forge a consortium of universities, businesses, and educators to bid for the design contracts that will be awarded by the New American Schools Development Corporation this April. Those contracts will seek to develop models for radically reconfigured schools and school systems.

"What we realized after a month or two traveling around the state was that everyone was talking about change, but there was really no mechanism for change," said Jamie Vollmer, director of operations for the Iowa Business-Education Roundtable, one of the coalition members.

Other members include the L.S.E.A., the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa Department of Education, the state's Area Education Agencies, and the office of Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican.

'Get On the Train'

The Iowa corporation's formation is significant, said Chris Pipho, director of state relations for the Education Commission of the States, because it heralds the first time a statewide effort has been mounted in response to Mr. Bush's education initiative.

The President in April urged the nation to mount a "crusade" for education improvement. But his call, to this point, has largely gone unheeded in terms of nongovernmental action at the state level, Mr. Pipho said.

"We've finally got a horse going in the same direction that Bush wants it to go," Mr. Pipho said. "[U.S. Secretary of Education] Lamar Alexander has been saying all along he just wants you to get on the train. Now somebody has done it."

But how far or fast Iowa's new train rolls will depend on how much money it is able to raise from the state and federal governments and the private sector, said Don Gunderson, president of the School Administrators of Iowa and the new-schools group.

The corporation is seeking $7 million from Secretary Alexander's discretionary budget. According to Mr. Vollmer, that fund has $100 million set aside for the so-called "Track 1" component of America 2000, which seeks to reform existing school systems.

But initial meetings between representatives of the Iowa group and officials of the U.S. Education Department last week suggested that federal start-up dollars may not be forthcoming, said Samantha Guerry, a program director at the New American Schools Development Corporation who sat in on the meetings.

"In some ways they were a little misguided in thinking the people there from the [Education] Department were going to be able to carry the water on the funds issue," Ms. Guerry said. The two department representatives "were a bit perplexed about what [the discretionary-fund request] meant."

Mr. Pipho added that "a few other [education groups] have their knives sharpened up" for those discretionary funds as well.

Moreover, Mr. Ott said, Iowa's own tight budget currently has no extra money to give the corporation. U.S. Education Department officials were unavailable for comment last week. But they were quoted in Iowa press reports as voicing enthusiasm for the Iowa schools corporation as a model for state support of federal education initiatives.

"You're setting up a whole new league in Iowa," Marty Connors, Mr. Alexander's America 2000 liaison to state and local governments, told the Associated Press. "It's absolutely extraordinary."

A Trial Balloon?

New Iowa Schools officials insist they are not simply sending up a trial balloon to see if it attracts funding. Even with only nominal resources, they said, the group would serve as a place to which schools and districts seeking help in their education-improvement efforts can turn.

Members of the corporation also emphasize that the formation of their organization was a major victory in itself, since it brings together once-adversarial business, education, and government groups around the same table. Such a broad-based effort, they predict, can hardly fail to get attention from funders and reformers.

"Maybe I've taken some kind of Pollyanna drug, but it seems to me that what [the federal government is] looking for is a way to change public education in America, and if there's magic in collaboration, then people will have to notice us," said Mr. Vollmer, a former chief executive officer of the Great Midwestern ice Cream Company.

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 16

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