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Is There Ever Anything Good About Receiving a D+ Grade?

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Pop Quiz:  Is there ever anything good about receiving a D+ grade?

This week the public education watchdog StudentsFirst ranked Georgia 15th nationally in a report that analyzed state policies rather than student performance.  The D+ grade assigned to Georgia considered improvement in public charter school laws and a new teacher evaluations format but the report downgraded Georgia for weakness empowering parents with meaningful information and deficiencies in financial accountability policies.

The overall message to Georgia is the state has plenty of room for improvement.

Grading states in a numerical range that produced an “A-to-F” format, no state received an “A” in the StudentsFirst report card.  Louisiana (B- and 2.88) and Florida (B- and 2.73) finished one-two.  Georgia (D+ and 1.42) placed behind Tennessee (C- and 1.75) which ranked 11th.  States were evaluated in three major categories:  elevating teaching, empowering parents and spending wisely.  Thirty-eight states scored “D or F” and ten states scored “C”.

The summary stated, “Georgia recently took a bold step in elevating the teaching profession by eliminating seniority-based layoffs.  Georgia enacted legislation in 2012 that requires districts to use educator performance – significantly informed by student academic growth – as the primary factor in determining layoffs.  This legislation has the potential to inspire continued improvements in the state’s education policies.”

StudentsFirst LogoStudentsFirst was founded in 2010 by Michelle Rhee after her tenure as the Washington, D.C. public schools system chancellor ended with her resignation.  Widely known as a high profile reformer and advocate for students, Rhee was often at odds against entrenched bureaucracy.

The national education policies analysis is the first issued by StudentsFirst.  “It is real tough to use test scores as the sole metric for students living in different towns, different parts of town, different parts of the country,” said Bradford Swann, Georgia state director for StudentsFirst.  “This report solely focuses on the laws that are in place to bring about education reform.”

Swann cited the example of Louisiana which placed first in the StudentsFirst report even though its fourth and eighth grade students scored in the bottom 10 percent nationally in 2011 math and reading tests.  The state adopted policies that link personnel and salary decisions to student performance.  Louisiana also enacted stronger public charter school and voucher policies.

Swann said Louisiana is “building a foundation that will allow them to really bring about student achievement not for one or two years but for the long haul.  That is the key point.  For the next 20 years, do you have the tools in place so you can advance your students?”  Swann recently joined StudentsFirst after serving on the staff of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

A new Georgia teacher evaluation system that StudentsFirst cited as a positive step forward was criticized this week when initial results showed just 1 percent of teachers evaluated in a pilot project were determined to be ineffective.  Given that Georgia elementary students score low on national tests, and the state’s four-year high school graduation rate is among the lowest nationally, critics quickly suggested the new teacher evaluation format needs some work.

Here are more highlights from the Georgia section:

Elevate Teaching:  “Georgia does not substantively assess its educators … While the existing statewide evaluation includes classroom observations and student growth, it lacks key criteria … such as a four-tier rating of effectiveness, significant student growth and student surveys.  Similarly, principal evaluations lack all essential criteria of comprehensive evaluations.”

Empower Parents:  “Currently, Georgia parents do not have access to meaningful information that enables them to engage in their schools and to make informed decisions for their children … Georgia should require A-F letter grades for schools rather than a star rating system.  Georgia should also provide for notifying parents of teacher ineffectiveness and allow parents access to teacher quality information … Georgia should establish a parent trigger law that allows a majority of parents to band together at the grassroots level and petition to turn around low-performing schools throughout the state.”

Spend Wisely and Govern Well: “Georgia should empower data-driven decision making by improving the financial data it collects and linking spending to academic achievement.  If school districts mismanage resources, Georgia should provide for governance changes … Georgia should move to a portable employer-sponsored retirement plan and permit public charter schools to opt out of the plan.”

Click here read the complete Georgia section on the StudentsFirst website.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Michelle Rhee: No Child Left Behind “Not Perfect” but not a Total Bust

Mike Klein

Michelle Rhee, the innovative founder of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, spoke about the new Obama administration No Child Left Behind waivers when she appeared on CNN on Wednesday morning.  “American Morning” host Christine Romans asked, has NCLB been a bust?

“I don’t think so at all.  Let me be clear that the law is not perfect.  I think everyone knows there are some changes and modifications that need to be made, but I don’t think that anyone can doubt that it has brought a new level of accountability to American schools,” Rhee said.

“We are looking at data in a way that we never have before, we are paying attention to sub-groups of kids and saying that it’s not okay for certain groups of kids in your school or school district to be failing and in those ways, it’s incredibly important.”

On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the White House briefing room to announce that all 50 states could apply for waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  Georgia will apply.

StudentsFirst Founder Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee again on CNN: “We want kids to meet the standards.  Now, is that all that should be happening?  No.  One of the things you see is tests only test certain subjects, often mat and reading, and sometimes what schools do is go overboard and they just try to jam reading and math down the kids’ throats.  That’s not the answer.

“The research shows that kids who have access to a broad-based curriculum are the ones who do better academically.  But also, we shouldn’t go to the other direction to say testing is evil, testing is bad.  We have to be able to, in a very objective and consistent way, know whether or not kids are learning and meeting the standards.  The way to do that is a standardized test.

“One of the things that drive people nuts about No Child Left Behind is that it sets certain benchmarks for proficiency.  X percent of your kids have to be at proficiency and it goes up every year until 2014 when 100 percent of your kids are supposed to be proficient.  People look at that and say, it’s not realistic.

“We have to be able to look at growth.  Is the school moving student achievement in the right direction?  Are the students growing to meet certain targets?  Instead of having a binary distinction of either met Adequate Yearly Progress or you have not, what has the growth looked like?  We have to modify the system so that achievement and growth can be taken into account without there being this strict binary yes and no.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michelle Rhee: “We Need a New Voice” to Advocate for Students

Michelle Rhee is education reform’s rock star.   She’s Madonna, never afraid to be out front, never afraid to speak her mind, never afraid to confront status quo, never afraid to be forced out of her job as Washington, DC schools chancellor because she did the right thing: She advocated for students first.

Technically, Rhee was not forced out.  She resigned in October after Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated by voters.   Fenty put Rhee in charge of the city’s schools three years ago and with her benefactor and protector gone, Rhee saw the writing on the blackboard.  (Or the iPad?)

Rhee’s volatile term included battles over teacher tenure and pay raises, school closures, accountability fights and large reductions to central office personnel.  There was also a perception that Rhee did not listen well.  On the plus side, Washington, DC public school students made dramatic gains in fourth and eighth grade reading and math, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress examination.

The one-time Teach for America recruit who founded the New Teacher Project non-profit in 1997 has already moved on; she turned down traditional job offers to launch StudentsFirst with a typical Michelle Rhee goal:  Raise $1 billion and recruit 1 million members during the first year.

“We need a new voice to change the balance of power in public education,” Rhee wrote in Newsweek magazine’s December 13 issue cover story.  “Our mission is to defend and promote the interests of children so that America has the best education system in the world.”

Michelle Rhee

Rhee is succinct about her Washington tenure.  “Some people believed I had disdain for the public,” she wrote.  “I read a quote where a woman said it seemed like I was listening but I didn’t do what she told me to do.  There’s a big difference there.  It’s not that I wasn’t listening; I just didn’t agree and went in a different direction.  There’s no way you can please everyone.”

Nearly 1,000 system under-performing or unqualified teachers were fired or placed on probation during Rhee’s tenure.   There was a very public battle two years ago over the new teachers’ union contract.  Rhee was portrayed as being anti – teacher in a union-dominated city.  Status quo supporters including some inside the school system worked to discredit her work.  She does not apologize for her goals – students first – but Rhee admits she could have handled it better.

“I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation,” Rhee wrote in Newsweek.  “I should have said to the effective teachers, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about.  My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.’  I totally fell down on that.”

Several studies have reported U.S. public school students are falling behind others worldwide.  Rhee wrote that U.S. students are currently 21st, 23rd and 25th among the 30 developed nations in science, reading and math.  “The children in our schools today will be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than the previous generation,” Rhee wrote.

“I was at Harvard the other day, and someone asked about a statement that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others have made that public-school reform is the civil-rights issue of our generation.  Well, during the civil-rights movement they didn’t work everything out by sitting down collaborating and compromising.   Conflict was necessary in order to move the agenda forward.

“There are some fundamental disagreements that exist right now about what kind of progress is possible and what strategies will be most effective.  Right now, what we need to do is fight.   We can be respectful about it.  But this is the time to stand up and say what you believe, not sweep the issues under the rug so that we can feel good about getting along.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.


December 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment