Michelle Rhee gives the nation a D+ in school reform

 Michelle Rhee (by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post )
Michelle Rhee (by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post )

School reformer heavyweight Michelle Rhee and her advocacy group StudentsFirst are not, apparently, pleased with the way school reform is going across the country. In their second annual State Policy Report Card, the national average is a D+ and the top state, Louisiana (yes! Louisiana) only eked out a B- with a 2.92 overall grade point average.

Given that the measures StudentsFirst is using to “grade” the states are based on nothing more Rhee’s view of school reform — which has no solid evidence to back it up — the report card wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that she remains a force in the public education debate and is able to attract major money from private donors.

Twenty-four measures were used, with most of them involving the spread of charter schools and vouchers, the reform or elimination of tenure, the evaluation of teachers with test scores and the institution of merit pay — all tools in the reformers’ arsenal. That they have no real record of broadly improving student achievement doesn’t seem to matter.

The 24 measures were broken down into three main categories: “elevate the teaching profession,” “empower parents,” and “spend wisely and govern well.” States and the District of Columbia got three separate grades, which were averaged for an overall grade.

The great irony is the report card’s supposed stress on “accountability,” even while it lauds Louisiana — which has a statewide voucher with little accountability — as the No. 1 state in terms of school reform. It doesn’t, of course, mention the first statewide audit of the voucher program, which says that the education department in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has failed to make sure that participating private schools spend public money according to the law or that they properly educate students. Standardized test scores — the metric that school reformers like Jindal like to use to measure the “quality” of a school — were much lower in the voucher schools than the state average.

Here are some of the findings taken right from the summary of the audit:

* Overall, the proficiency rating for schools participating in the Scholarship Program is 41%. This rating is based on the percent of students who scored basic and above on standardized tests during academic year 2012-13. The proficiency rating of the 33 schools that participated in the Scholarship Program for at least two years is 41.8%. LDOE [Louisiana Department of Education] restricted admission for new Scholarship students at seven (21%) of these 33 schools for academic year 2013-14 based on poor academic performance.

* LDOE has not set standards or measures in the accountability system for removing a participating school from the program for academic performance.

Independent auditors found that LDOE overpaid or underpaid 48 (41%) of the 118 participating schools in academic year 2012-13.

* Independent auditors were unable to perform all procedures related to the use of funding for 115 (97%) of the 118 schools because these schools did not separately account for the Scholarship funds.

The state that came in second, for the second year in a row, was Florida, where former governor Jeb Bush began instituting some of the reform policies that Rhee adopted and expanded when she ran D.C. public schools from 2007-10. The top rated states are, of course, those that have followed Rhee’s reform prescription.

Here’s the top 10, with letter grade followed by Grade Point Average

1. Louisiana   B-   2.92

2.  Florida  B-   2.71

3.  Indiana   C+   2.48

4.  Rhode Island   C+   2.40

5.  District of Columbia   C+   2.38

6.  Tennessee   C   2.10

7.  Colorado    C   2.06

7.  Hawaii   C    2.06

9.  Michigan    C-    1.96

10.  Ohio    C-    1.92

Virginia tied for 17th place with a D+ and 1.54. Maryland was No. 27 with a D+ and 1.35 GPA. The national average was a D+ with a 1.40.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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