School Choice & Charters

Iowa Mandates ‘Core Curriculum’ for Private Schools

By Erik W. Robelen — May 06, 2008 1 min read
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Legislators in Iowa, a state long known for devotion to local control of schools, have approved a new statewide curriculum mandate that has some private school advocates alarmed.

Under the measure, not only all of Iowa’s public school districts, but also its state-accredited nonpublic schools, would have to adhere to the Iowa Core Curriculum, which spells out key skills and concepts all students should master. Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, was expected to sign the measure into law last week.

“What we’re most nervous about is the precedent it sets for state-government control of private school classrooms,” said Eric A. Goranson, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Christian Schools.

Joe McTighe, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, based in Germantown, Md., said he was not aware of any other state policy that was as “intrusive” into private schools’ curriculum. The legislation risks “blurring or eliminating” the differences between public and private schools, he said.

But the Roman Catholic diocesan superintendents of Iowa and the Iowa Catholic Conference supported the measure, said Tom Chapman, the conference’s executive director.

“There was enough flexibility that we didn’t think it was going to be problematic,” he said.

Iowa private schools must earn state accreditation to be eligible for state aid for transportation and textbooks, Mr. Goranson said, and to participate in a state tuition-tax-credit program that helps pay for low-income students to attend private schools.

Elaine Watkins-Miller, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said that Iowa has a history of working with private schools through the accreditation process, and that the new measure would not be onerous.

“It doesn’t dictate certain classes be taught, textbooks be taught,” she said. “It does speak to skills and concepts, but has flexibility that allows private schools to continue to teach the curriculum they are teaching.”

The core curriculum covers literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as “21st-century learning skills,” such as financial and health literacy, according to the state agency.

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