This inaugural (and comprehensive) StudentsFirst education-policy report card grades all fifty states, plus D.C., on their reform orientation. The report focuses on three “policy pillars” of contemporary school reform: elevating the teaching profession (use of evaluations for personnel decisions, alternative-certification pathways, etc.); empowering parents with data and choice (comparable resources for charters, opportunity-scholarship programs, etc.); and spending wisely and governing well (teacher pensions, governance flexibility, etc.). The results are bleak. Louisiana and Florida topped the list with grades of B-minus. But two-thirds of states received Ds or Fs. For the “data and choice” pillar, only five states earned a C-minus or better. Still, there are some rosier points: Louisiana and Florida are lauded for policies mandating that teacher effectiveness be used as the primary driver of personnel decisions, and Indiana—catapulted by the charter and voucher reforms of superstar Tony Bennett (now gone to Florida)—received accolades for empowering parents with data and school choice. The report has understandably stirred much controversy in eduville (some of which surfaced during the release event yesterday). Many question how states that underachieve on NAEP, like Louisiana, could so outdo high-flying jurisdictions like Massachusetts (which earned a D-plus). (Others have less-astute responses to the report.) Some individual policy rankings have also catalyzed much discussion: The fiscal and governance pillar, for example, is built of all non-teacher and non-choice policies, making it difficult to interpret. (Policy objectives in this pillar range from removing class-size restrictions to reforming pensions.) Nevertheless, it is the attempt to quantify the seemingly un-quantifiable (which, trust us, is hard work) and move beyond the worn-thin school-reform banter that makes this study valuable. And if Florida’s slow and steady growth is any indication, most of the reforms upon which these rankings are based should gradually yield real improvement in the top-ranked states.
SOURCE: StudentsFirst, State Policy Report Card 2013 (Washington, D.C.: StudentsFirst, January 2013).