An education group wants to raise teacher salaries and implement stricter performance guidelines before students advance to the next grade.
Institute for Tomorrow's Workforce, created by state lawmakers to recommend education improvements, will present its ideas to the Legislature in mid-January.
Its plan also calls for prohibiting Iowa's public universities and colleges from using class rank and grade-point averages for admission. Instead, admittance would be determined by whether students show proficiency in various subjects.
"The structure we have now is never going to deliver the type of education our students need," said William Lepley, the institute's executive director and former director of the Iowa Department of Education.
The institute, comprised of business people and educators, wants Iowa's starting teacher pay to fall between $32,000 and $40,000. It also wants salaries averages to meet the national average of $47,808. In 2004-2005, Iowa ranked 41st nationally with an average teacher salary of $39,284.
The group will ask lawmakers to make Iowa the first state to link pay increases with a new evaluation system and four-step career ladder.
Academically, the group recommends requiring high schools to offer the ACT-recommended courses that include four years of English, three years each of math, science and social studies, and two years of foreign language. Stricter exit exams should be offered to high school seniors, and other students should meet more stringent requirements before advancing to the next grade, the group said.
"The old system doesn't work anymore," said Marvin Pomerantz, the group's co-chairman.
Pomerantz, the former president of the Iowa Board of Regents, pushed the group to recommend consolidating the state's 365 districts into 100 districts by 2010. Not all members agreed, and the item was left off the report.
Instead, the institute will suggest that lawmakers review whether high schools with fewer than 400 students and school districts with fewer than 700 students are offering quality education.
Marc Ward, a Des Moines school board member, said the recommendation will not address the problem. To ensure everyone gets an equal education, Ward said the state needs to implement statewide standards.
"We're the only state in the country that doesn't have standards," he said. "We're being arrogant in thinking we know something that the other 49 states don't know. The reason we don't have statewide standards is to prop up rural school districts, and that's not helping kids in rural Iowa or other districts."
Linda Nelson, president of the Iowa State Education Association and a member of the institute's board, said local school officials will likely be concerned about losing the ability to maintain complete control over districts.
"Yet we continue to do things the way we've always done them," Nelson said. "To better prepare kids we need to look at doing things differently. This may be a way to do that."