Reform has too much emphasis on GPA


Iowans are still waiting to see the final proposal from Gov. Terry Branstad for reforming education. The blueprint made public so far contains a consistent theme: Iowa needs better teachers.

Making sure we have a great teacher in every classroom is essential if we are going to give all children a world-class education, said Linda Fandel, the governors special assistant on education.

This is a fine goal. But its also problematic.

Assuming great teachers can significantly improve education also assumes that todays teachers are at fault for the current problems in Iowas K-12 schools. That is a premise Iowans, including teachers, question. And it raises concerns about some of the solutions being proposed by the governor.

One of those solutions that should be abandoned would require a higher grade point average for college students who want to be teachers. Under Branstads proposal, those applying to one of the states teacher preparation schools would need to have at least a 3.0 GPA (B average).

Are the best teachers the ones who have the personalities and dedication and skills to motivate students the same ones who received good grades during their first years in college?

Not necessarily.

Branstad awarded the 2012 Iowa Teacher of the Year to Charity Campbell, a physical education teacher in Norwalk. She is known for her leadership and high expectations for her students. When presenting her award, the governor thanked her for her outstanding work to motivate, challenge and inspire others.

The Des Moines Register asked Campbell if she maintained a 3.0 GPA in college. She said she didnt. We can be successful even if we didnt have that high of a grade point average, she said.

We also called Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 Iowa Teacher of the Year. She said she did have a high enough GPA to qualify under the proposal. She understands the governor is attempting to elevate the profession of teaching. But she added, The arbitrariness of the grade point average is troubling. People mature at different stages and grow into this work at different rates. Such a policy risks excluding people who may go on to be great teachers.

We asked West Des Moines Schools Superintendent Peter Ansingh what he thought. He said hes unsure whether the ideas being floated for improving teacher quality will make a difference. College grades are not what he has focused on when hiring teachers and administrators. And if his admission to a teacher preparation program would have been contingent on his undergraduate grades, things might have turned out differently for him.

I didnt hit the 3.0 mark when working on his bachelors degree in chemistry, he said. Yet he later finished his doctorate with a 3.95 GPA.

Its likely the same story you hear from many Iowa educators. Its the same story youd hear from scores of workers in other fields. Your grades the first few years of college are not an indicator of how well you will perform in a future job.

In fact, the very best teachers may be the ones who struggled with their own educations and developed the skills and dedication to make them excellent teachers. They could be shut out if the governors proposal becomes reality.