What are teachers being taught? Bill calls for defining teaching terms

By: - January 25, 2023 2:56 pm

GOP lawmakers want Iowa’s colleges of education to define concepts used in course work from “compulsory heterosexuality” to “equitable teaching practices” to “peacebuilding.” (Photo by Drazen Zigic/iStock-Getty Images Plus)

Republicans’ focus on education reform did not end with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school scholarship legislation: Lawmakers are now looking at how future educators at Iowa universities are learning to teach.

Lawmakers in a House Education subcommittee moved Wednesday to advance House File 7, a bill requiring Iowa’s three public universities to submit reports to the Legislature on how certain terms are used in courses within the schools’ colleges of education, and establishing an interim study committee to “evaluate practitioner preparation programs.”

The terms the bill would require Iowa’s colleges of education to define concepts ranging from “compulsory heterosexuality” to “equitable teaching practices” to “peacebuilding.” Rep. Thomas Moore, R-Griswold, said the legislation is a measure to ensure Iowa teaching standards align with “the will of the people for their children.”

“I guess, I believe that our curriculums have become overloaded, not only at the university level, but in high schools and whatever,” Moore said. “I would attribute a lot of Iowa’s fall from number one, to the amount of extra stuff that has been mandated by this Legislature and other things.”

Mary Braun, state relations officer for the Board of Regents, said Regents institutions are always willing to provide information the Legislature’s requests. But she also pointed to an existing law requiring all Iowa universities’ teaching programs, both public and private, go through a “rigorous review process.” All teaching programs are evaluated by the Iowa Department of Education and State Board of Education every seven years, she said.

Rep. Monica Kurth, D-Davenport, questioned what the purpose of this bill is, as the state already has a system of overseeing its teaching programs.

“I just have a concern that this bill is a witch hunt,” Kurth said.

The legislation does not outline how lawmakers plan to use the information they would collect from Iowa colleges. Keenan Crow with One Iowa, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, expressed concern about what legislators planned to do with that information in the future. Many of the terms being defined are about marginalized communities, Crow said, and even requiring reporting on these terms will create a “chilling effect” on programs wishing to address these issues.

“We believe even this reporting requirement is going to have a negative impact on the ability of educators to integrate any of those concepts and are going to therefore shortchange both new educators and marginalized communities alike,” Crow said.

House Republicans have introduced other legislation this session relating to how schools manage discussions of marginalized groups, specifically LGBTQ+ issues. One bill prohibits schools from providing instruction or material related to sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade. Another requires school districts to acquire written consent from a student’s parent or guardian before providing any accommodations affirming a change in gender identity, such as using a different name or pronoun than what they were assigned at birth.

In the debate on Reynolds’ private school scholarship program, multiple Republican legislators said how public schools approach these topics conflicted with some Iowa families’ values, which is why parents wanted to send their children to private institutions.

But Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, said Iowans have a right to know what’s being taught in taxpayer-funded institutions. He questioned why teachers needed to discuss “current understandings of race, ethnicity, culture and socioeconomic status” in a class on reading, or what a “culturally responsive classroom” means.

“It’s not a witch hunt,” Wheeler said. “It’s just simply we want some answers on how our taxpayer dollars are being used what is going on in our teacher prep programs.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.