Where Does Your State Rank on Education Reform?

Michelle Rhee, the gutsy former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools, has a tendency to make the education establishment’s life harder by doing something all too rare: holding them to account.

Now out of Washington and living here in California with her husband, Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA star) Kevin Johnson, Rhee runs an organization called Students First, which advocates for education reform based around the needs of the kids rather than the unions or the bureaucracy. 

Students First has just released its first state policy report card, which evaluates the states based on a wide variety of reformist criteria — emphasizing teacher excellence (read: having the ability to let the underperformers go), meaningful teacher evaluations, educational choice, correlation between pay and performance, accountability measures, and pensions among them. The news is sadly, but predictably dismal.

Judging on an A-F scale, not a single state in the union received an A grade. Only two fell in the B range: Florida (thank you, Jeb Bush) and Louisiana (thank you, Bobby Jindal). The vast majority fell into the C and D range, while an unconscionable 11 received Fs: California, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Alabama, West Virginia, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

What are conditions like in your state’s schools? Have any accountability measures been proposed or implemented? And what could be done to make your state’s schools better? 

  1. Nick Stuart

    What could be done to make primary and secondary education better for the students is separating public funding of education from public provision of education:  vouchers.

    This would create real choice for parents, and real competition for public schools. Absent real competition, public schools will not materially improve regardless of what other reforms may be attempted.

  2. ThePullmanns

    Troy, Troy. Rhee’s report card is far worse than grades from groups like the Center for Education Reform (or even the Jeb Bush army), because Rhee follows typically Democrat stances against real school choice. Her version of choice means within district lines and only within government-controlled schools, not the real choice engendered by vouchers. 

    –Joy

  3. Wade Moore

    She’s married to Kevin Johnson?  When did that happen?  Johnson was an awesome NBA player, but how are his politics?  Not to push this thread off the rails this early…

    BTW, my state – Illinois –  got a solid “D.”  Ugh.

  4. Patrick in Albuquerque

     To run the ed dep’t here in NM, Susanah Martinez brought in the woman repsonsible for Florida’s good grade. So far they’ve been thwarted at every turn by the teachers union and a general dislike of change.

  5. KC Mulville

    For the moment, rather than asking who is doing well or doing poorly … let’s ask why? What did Bush and Jindal do that rate so well?

    • According to the popups, both FL and LA got A grades in “elevate teaching.” Most of the bottom rung did poorly in that respect.

    • None of them really did well in bureaucracy and spending. Empowering parents is almost non-existent in some places.

    I guarantee that we’ll have teacher union officials preparing explanations for why this measurement must be wrong.

  6. C. U. Douglas

    Here in Oregon, we got a ‘D-’ which in public school meant:  “You passed.  Be thankful for that.”

    Interesting note:  My sister and her husband lived in Austin, TX some years back.  After their first daughter was born, they moved back to California, stating their reason that they were concerned over the quality of education in Texas.  Now they send all their kids to charter schools and do their darnedest to keep their kids out of California Public schools.  Ah, sweet irony.

    I wish the chart went into more detail on what ‘elevate teaching’ means.

    As noted by others above, it’s interesting that few states ‘empower parents’.  My guess is a lot of that has to do with unions and the Department of Education.  Parental input has taken a back burner to centralized planning.

  7. Augustine

    This scorecard is obviously directed at states with large urban school districts.  That’s why state’s like South Dakota (where I live) and North Dakota fair poorly despite the fact that in general the educational outcomes of these states are quite high.  I’ll give an example.  The scorecard dings South Dakota because it doesn’t allow mayors to take over failing schools.  First of all, South Dakota has exactly two cities that have more than one public high school.  There is almost always one school and everyone knows what is going on there.  Second, almost all mayors in South Dakota are part-time mayors. Do you really need to have the mayor of a 1,000 person town take over the schools? 

  8. Wade Moore

    The report has a bit of detail on what they mean by “elevate teaching” and the other parameters.  They also discuss what the top 5 states in each catagory are doing.  My hope is my state will take a close look at what the better states are doing and try to replicate their methods as best they can.  That is the beauty of the federal system afterall… 

  9. Foxfier

    When two years goes by without a sexual assault scandal in my area schools, I’ll care enough about what their scores are to figure out the actual metrics the folks doing the grading are using….

    (The last two big ones that hit the news were when they put a known pedophile into a school as a student, without telling anybody but the school head, and he assaulted a girl, and when a teacher who’d been found guilty of sexual assault of a student was given his old job back when he got out of jail.  Took three days of parents surrounding the school for him to resign.)

  10. C. U. Douglas
    Cattle King: This scorecard is obviously directed at states with large urban school districts.  That’s why state’s like South Dakota (where I live) and North Dakota fair poorly despite the fact that in general the educational outcomes of these states are quite high.  I’ll give an example.  The scorecard dings South Dakota because it doesn’t allow mayors to take over failing schools.  First of all, South Dakota has exactly two cities that have more than one public high school.  There is almost always one school and everyone knows what is going on there.  Second, almost all mayors in South Dakota are part-time mayors. Do you really need to have the mayor of a 1,000 person town take over the schools?  · 13 minutes ago

    If correct, then this report falls in similar lines of the ‘Best Colleges’ fallacy as listed by Sowell.  Most best college reports grade universities based on inputs, and rarely on outputs — that is, results.

    Therefore, I’m far more curious to see what education is producing in these various states, not what sort of education they produce.

  11. ThePullmanns

    The metrics are all about political standpoint–which makes sense, because you assign grades according to what you think is important, and what people of different political persuasions think is important, well, differs. So the “elevate teaching” part evaluates largely on whether states judge teachers according to their students’ test score improvement.

  12. Margaret Sarah

    The report card is based entirely on “statutes, regulations, and state-level polices.” Some pluses: It pushes school choice via charter schools, and teacher improvement via evaluation based on student results and multiple routes for teacher certification. But it shouldn’t be confused with a rating based on inputs to schools and teachers or on student outcomes.   

  13. Barkha Herman
    Margaret Sarah: The report card is based entirely on “statutes, regulations, and state-level polices.” Some pluses: It pushes school choice via charter schools, and teacher improvement via evaluation based on student results and multiple routes for teacher certification. But it shouldn’t be confused with a rating based on inputs to schools and teachers or on student outcomes.    · 0 minutes ago

    Hence Education reform, not Education.

  14. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Some very smart comments here. Just to respond to a few: 

    I completely agree with Nick that the separation of public financing and public provision is essential (there’s any number of areas of public policy where we could say the same). 

    I also agree with those of you pointing out the limits of the methodology. Yes, this doesn’t focus quite as much on conservative reforms as a lot of us would like and Cattle King’s observation about the urban bias is extremely well-taken, as the issues are much different (virtual education is particularly salient in rural areas). As several of you have said, a lot of this pushes in the right direction while leaving out key components. And yes, it’s a measure of reform efforts, not outputs.

    This is also a helpful reminder of why federally-directed education policy is such a dead end — the needs of a continental nation are simply too diverse to admit of a meaningful one-size-fits-all remedy.

  15. Troy Senik, Ed.

    One another note: Michelle Rhee is a Democrat. So this might not read like something put out by the Republican Study Committee, but we should all be thankful that there are serious people doing this kind of work on the left-of-center.

    That’s particularly important for places like California, where we have the most powerful teachers union in the nation (and one that is irredeemably corrupt), yet have no meaningful Republican opposition.

  16. C. U. Douglas
    Troy Senik, Ed.: One another note: Michelle Rhee is a Democrat. So this might not read like something put out by the Republican Study Committee, but we should all be thankful that there are serious people doing this kind of work on the left-of-center.

    That’s particularly important for places like California, where we have the most powerful teachers union in the nation (and one that is irredeemably corrupt), yet have no meaningful Republican opposition. · 41 minutes ago

    True enough.  That, despite being under essentially one-party rule and having a powerful teachers’ union, the state of California still was graded an ‘F’ is telling.

    The great thing about Calfornia right now is that it serves as an example of just where Progressive policy and state-run institutions lead us. 

  17. JamesB

    A couple of points:

    1) Socialized systems work less badly when they are small.  So our socialist education system works a little less badly where states are rural, and each district has fewer kids and less opportunity for graft.  Therefore, those states don’t do “reform”, because they feel like their systems are ok.

    The most frustrating state in this regard is Texas.  A state that Republican should have vouchers by now.  But the rural Republicans in the state legislature thinks their schools are just dandy.  The reps from the inner cities are more motivated by bad schools, but they are Democrats and think socialized systems work well.

    2) Indiana gets a C, despite the fact that the entire state is eligible for vouchers.  Granted, that was only a year ago, and only 3500 kids are using vouchers at the moment.  But giving that system a C tells you all you need to know about the methodology.

  18. Gary The Ex-Donk

    Connecticut gets a D+?  That’s not even a real grade (in the traditional sense).  C’s for “elevate teaching” and “spend wisely and govern well” but the F for “empower parents” drags it down.

    In other words, the teacher’s unions and bureaucrats are mediocre and the parents are shut out of the process.  Nice.

  19. C. U. Douglas
    Foxfier: When two years goes bywithout a sexual assault scandal in my area schools, I’ll care enough about what their scores are to figure out the actual metrics the folks doing the grading are using….

    (The last two big ones that hit the news were when they put a known pedophile into a school as a student, without telling anybody but the school head, and he assaulted a girl, and when a teacher who’d been found guilty of sexual assault of a student was given his old job back when he got out of jail.  Took three days of parents surrounding the school for him to resign.) · 30 minutes ago

    A side note here:  I am amazed (but shouldn’t be) at how doggedly the media chased after the Church regarding pedophile charges, but large ignores the existence of pedophiles in public schools.

  20. R. Craigen

    This initiative may be called “students first” but it focusses almost entirely on matters of the teaching profession, administration and school structure & funding.  

    I’m not saying these things are unimportant.  They may even ultimately (i.e., literally not “first”) benefit students.

    It’s just that we’re in the middle of a battle over content standards and harmful teaching methodologies that are being enforced on teachers.  It seems a distraction to begin obsessing over matters of how money is spent, who gets hired & fired, and whether parents can move their kids to different schools.

    Steeped as I am in the battle over what larnin’ actually gets fed to kids in the classroom, I think students are desperately in need of something better right now.  Teachers also see this, but many feel helpless and talk to our initiative about it.  They cannot speak out for fear of the unions and administration.

    Some good things about this program:  If it loosens the teachers’ grip, improves school choice and creates alternatives to existing teachers’ colleges and professional development (which are at the root of the current problems!) it will have immediate positive effects on student learning.