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 governor’s special assistant on education.

This is a fine goal. But it’s also problematic.

Assuming “great” teachers can significantly improve education also assumes that today’s teachers are at fault for the current problems in Iowa’s 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 Branstad’s proposal, those applying to one of the state’s 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 didn’t. “We can be successful even if we didn’t 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 he’s 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 didn’t hit the 3.0 mark” when working on his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, he said. Yet he later finished his doctorate with a 3.95 GPA.

It’s likely the same story you hear from many Iowa educators. It’s the same story you’d 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 governor’s proposal becomes reality.