Jason Glass is the director of the Iowa Department of Education, which oversees the funding and operations of Iowa's elementary and secondary schools. Those schools account for 45 percent of the state's $6 billion budget.
Glass has been tasked - by Gov. Terry Branstad - with the job of overhauling the public schools. He has developed plans to change the way teachers are paid, to improve teacher education and recruitment, to refine teacher and student evaluations, to allow more non-traditional teachers into classrooms and to ensure that tax dollars are being spent effectively. That is, of course, an incredibly ambitious agenda that will spark controversy and opposition.
Glass says he is willing to be patient, given that the public education system is a hundred years old, as are many of its features. We are hoping he means patient and persistent. The changes he is contemplating are essential, but they have been so for decades. The political obstacles remain formidable.
For instance, Branstad himself has temporarily shelved a proposed tiered system of teacher pay meant to attract people to the profession and promote those who do best in classrooms. Branstad, like Glass, may see gradualism as a goal, but the duo needs to remember that nothing guarantees their continued exercise of power. Branstad, and therefore Glass, has just four guaranteed years to get something done.
The opposition to educational reform is working constantly to preserve the status quo, while demanding more money for a broken system. Opponents come in the form of some legislators, some school leaders and, of course, the teachers union. They would be happy to deflect, divert and wait out the Branstad administration. Which is why the governor and Glass cannot get too dreamy about long-term plans.