Sometimes a D is a good grade

D grade written on a test paper.

The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press headlined Minnesota’s “D” rating on school reforms — but that rating could be a good thing. The bad grade came from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and has nothing at all to do with how well Minnesota educates students. By most measures, Minnesota’s student achievement is among the best in the nation. The pattern of the StudentsFirst report is consistent: states with high student achievement get failing grades on its education “reform” rating.

Diane Ravitch has perhaps the most trenchant critique of Rhee’s report:

“Rhee wants teachers to be evaluated and fired by test scores; she wants schools to be closed by test scores. But when she ranked the states, she didn’t look at test scores! If she had, her number one state–Louisiana–would have been at the bottom of her rankings.”

Fact is, Minnesota ranks very high in student achievement — but the states with the highest student achievement got the lowest grades from StudentsFirst, because they did not implement Rhee’s “reform” agenda. That agenda includes teacher evaluations based on unreliable “value added measures,” which use student test scores in ways that have shown time after time to misstate and misevaluate what’s actually happening in classrooms. Also on the Rhee/StudentsFirst agenda: strong support for charter schools and for vouchers, without regard to quality or results; shortened training periods for new teachers; eliminating teacher seniority and tenure; and mayoral and state control of “low performing schools and districts.”

Unsurprisingly, Rhee’s former district, Washington, DC, got high marks from StudentsFirst, despite its bottom-rung achievement scores and a black-white achievement gap far greater than Minnesota’s. (Overall fourth grade reading scores: DC=201, MN=222; Black/white achievement gap is 62 points in DC and 30 points in MN.) According to Ravitch, DC has the nation’s “lowest graduation rate and the largest black-white achievement gap and Hispanic-white achievement gap of any big city.”

The New York Times quoted California chief deputy superintendent Richard Zeiger as calling the state’s failing rating a “badge of honor:”

“This is an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing,” Mr. Zeiger said of StudentsFirst. “I would have been surprised if we had got anything else.”

Writing in Education Week’s State EdWatch blog, Andrew Ujifusa observed:

And the American Federation of Teachers said that as a state’s grade on StudentsFirst’s report card got higher, the actual grades of its students got worse.

As I’ve written about previously, StudentsFirst is increasing its presence in state elections, so the group has dollars to dole out as well as report cards. Lawmakers may have more reason than just policy concerns to pay attention to Rhee’s group.

The highest grade — B — went to states that do the worst in educating their children. That makes Minnesota’s D look like a very good grade. Maybe next year, we can aspire to even higher student achievement on the 3 Rs that count: reading, writing and arithmetic, and get an F from StudentsFirst on “reform.”

[Also published in TC Daily Planet]

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