In 2005, the state of Iowa, under the leadership of the then-Governor Tom Vilsack, the State Board of Education, and Iowa Department of Education Director Judy Jeffrey, began work on developing a core curriculum in literacy, math and science for students in grades 9-12. In 2007, the state legislature added the areas of social studies and 21st century skills to the Iowa Core Curriculum and expanded all area strands to include essential concepts for grades K-12. On May 1, 2008, Iowa Governor Chet Culver signed the legislation that mandated the Iowa Core Curriculum for all Iowa schools.
The Iowa Core 21st Century Skills were defined by the legislation to include the areas of health literacy, financial literacy, technology literacy, employability skills and civic literacy. A diverse team including preK – 12 teachers and administrators, Area Education Agency administrators and consultants, higher education faculty, and public and private sector community representatives wrote the essential concepts and skills for the 21st Century Skills section of the Iowa Core. As part of the Iowa Core development process, the 21st Century Skills went through multiple edits after which the Iowa Core Lead Team (ICLT) reviewed the work and provided feedback to the writing committee. The ICLT included representatives from the Iowa Department of Education, Area Education Agencies, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa School Board Association, higher education, local education agencies, community colleges, and business. Stakeholders were given an opportunity to provide input on each of the Iowa Core strands. Approximately 350 stakeholders responded to the draft version. The revised essential concepts and skills were presented a second time to the Lead Team, who recommended seeking approval from the Iowa State Board of Education. The State Board of Education approved the essential concepts and skills for grades 9-12 in March 2008 and grades K-8 in February 2009.
The “Universal Constructs” were identified following an analysis of the competencies and habits of mind needed for future successes in careers, college and citizenry. A team of educators and business representatives conducted a literature review of multiple sources that including the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning, the Definition and Selection of Key Competencies by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), enGauge 21st Century Skills by NCREL/Metiri Group, Cross Disciplinary Proficiencies in the American Diploma Project by Achieve, Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, Born Digital by Palfrey and Gasser, and Describing the Habits of Mind by Arthur Costa. The Universal Constructs apply in all aspects of an individual’s life and across all curricular content areas. The Universal Constructs in Iowa are identified as critical thinking, complex communication, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, and productivity and accountability. In addition to identifying the specific Universal Constructs, the writing committee developed a brief definition and explanation of the Universal Construct as evident in a 21st century environment. The writing committee is in the process of analyzing the Iowa Core strands through the lens of the Universal Constructs. Upcoming work related to the Universal Constructs will include developing processes for connecting the Universal Constructs with all Iowa Core strand areas, and building educator capacity to teach the Universal Constructs and help students integrate them into daily life. As teachers engage their students in the essential skills and concepts of the Iowa Core, the goal is to purposefully create educational environments in which students have multiple opportunities throughout the curriculum at all grade levels to become increasingly more competent and confident operating in the Universal Constructs and become successful in the 21st century—both in their professional and private lives.
The Iowa Department of Education’s Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) initiative that began in 2007 continues to assist teachers in improving student learning. The AIW framework sets standards for teaching academic subjects that maximize expectations of intellectual rigor for all students, increase student interest in academic work, support teachers’ taking time to teach for in-depth understanding rather than superficial coverage of material, provide a common conception of student intellectual work that promotes professional communities among teachers of different grade levels and subjects, and equips students to address the complex intellectual challenges of work, civic participation, and managing personal affairs in the contemporary world. AIW participants attend the AIW Fall Institute. This institute introduces participants to the rational and research behind AIW, provides them with the opportunity to score student assessment tasks, student work, and instruction, and assists them in developing team norms, dates and timelines for implementing AIW throughout the upcoming year. Participants leave with a deeper understanding of AIW due to the different perspectives they encounter and a plan for how to continue the work around AIW.
In a report released by the RAND Corporation, Iowa was identified as one of the three best leadership system states. Iowa received this honor by exhibiting five characteristics: 1) comprehensiveness in the scope of initiatives, 2) alignment of policies and practices, 3) broad stakeholder engagement, 4) agreement on how to improve leadership, and 5) coordination achieved through strong leadership. As this honor shows, Iowa’s 21st century readiness initiative is an exemplary model of systemic implementation. Iowa’s efforts to create a cohesive leadership system are overseen by a 15-organization Partnership comprising the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, the Board for Education Examiners, members and staff of the legislature, the Iowa Business Council, Area Education Agencies, community colleges, local education agencies, PIRC, Iowa Association of School Boards, Iowa State Education Association, Iowa ASCD, ICPEA, the Urban Education Network, and School Administrators of Iowa.