We are AEA: 40 years strong!

Happy 40th birthday to Iowa's AEAs!

The AEA system was established by the Iowa Legislature in 1975 to provide equity in education programs across the state. Iowa’s AEAs work as educational partners with local public and accredited private schools to help assure that all children reach their potential. Iowa AEAs are widely regarded as one of the foremost regional service systems in the country, offering programs—equitably, efficiently, and economically—on a regional or cooperative basis among the school systems.

Regional services started in the early 1900’s for Iowa schools, and schools were mostly served under a county system. In the late 1950’s, the state legislature allowed counties to jointly provide services to handle the large number of smaller school districts. As school districts merged, the legislature, in 1965, approved the merger of two or more counties as a joint county school system. Analyzing these new collaborations raised concerns about the availability of services and that services varied greatly from one county, or joint county system, to another. So the reason the legislature, in 1975, replaced the county system with 15 Area Education Agencies was to provide equity across the state. Over the last 12 years, the AEAs have merged from 15 to nine, ensuring that there are least 30,000 students in each AEA.

Forty years ago, students with disabilities were rarely found in our school buildings. They were either withheld from school or placed in a special school that did not serve them academically. The services that Northwest AEA provides are 76 percent special education-related, with 79 percent of our staff assigned to the Special Education Department. School personnel and the general public rarely understand these percentages.

Our role to support students with disabilities came about because of a law in 1975 called PL 94-142, which was the Education of all Handicapped Children Act now codified as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). We also serve two other main functions: supplying media services (Media Department) for students and staff and offering professional development (Educational Services Department) for school staff.

Today, AEAs are partners with both school districts and the Department of Education to bring services and new initiatives forward to increase student achievement. Examples of this include the Iowa Core State Standards, rolling out the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) reform initiative, working with the statewide STEM initiative and helping with teacher collaboration projects, like Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) and Instructional Rounds. These efforts are in addition to our daily special education support and services, amidst a continued round of budget reductions.

The Iowa Area Education Agencies have worked collaboratively lately to set statewide goals for every AEA. They can be found in an attached AEA pledge titled, "A New Compact With Iowa's Schools and The Department of Education on Behalf of All Our Learners." The four goals of the Compact are:
1. Every Iowa child will be proficient in reading by the end of third grade.
2. A numeracy goal will be determined after sufficient progress has been made in reaching the literacy goal identified above.
3. The learning gaps between students with IEPs and those without and for those students in disaggregated sub-groups will be reduced by half by 2018.
4. A post-secondary readiness goal will be established by 2014 that most accurately identifies and tracks post-secondary success.

We are currently focused on three of the four goals. The numeracy goal will be pursued when the literacy goal is better established.

We pledge to work collaboratively with schools and the Department of Education to champion these goals and more for the next 40 years!

As always, be sure to check out our blogs, which we hope will inform, inspire and guide your daily work:

For a complete listing of all blogs, please go to the Northwest AEA website. You can also sign up for an RSS feed to automatically receive blog updates (instructions provided on the Northwest AEA website).

Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator