Policymakers react to StudentsFirst's 'F' for California

California is one of 11 states to get an "F" on the report card.

California is one of 11 states to get an “F” on the report card.

California’s policy efforts to improve student achievement earned an F from StudentsFirst, the Sacramento-based advocacy group led by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor. The state ranked 41st in the nation on education policies in three major areas involving teachers, parents and school finance and governance. No state earned an A, and more than two-thirds of states received D’s or F’s on the group’s State Policy Report Card.

“While there is great momentum for reform in a number of states, nearly every state has a long way to go in terms of reforming its policies,” the report states. However, California is “stagnant,” it said.

The ratings relied on a complex matrix that covered three major areas:

1) Elevate teaching: States would earn good grades if they had comprehensive teacher and principal evaluations that were based on multiple measures, including 50 percent on student growth, classroom observations and student surveys. These evaluations would be used to decide whether to lay off or fire personnel or promote them and give them raises. States also won points if they had alternative certification paths for teachers.

2) Empower parents with information: States that gave letter grades to schools and notified parents if their children’s teachers were ineffective got high scores. Establishing a parent trigger that allows parents to demand a turnaround of a low-performing school as well as broader choices for low-income students, such as Opportunity Scholarships, were rewarded with points. States could also earn good marks for establishing and supporting charter schools and holding them accountable.

3) Spend wisely and govern well: States that allow for mayoral and state control of low-performing schools would earn good grades. Fiscal transparency, the use of multiple management strategies to realize efficiencies, and no class size restrictions for grades higher than 3rd earned positive marks. This category also includes making teacher pensions portable and fair.

David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), an education research and policy group, questions the basis of Rhee’s criteria.

“Some of the policies that she prefers might move state education in a positive direction,” Plank said. “Some of them probably won’t. But there is no evidence about any of them. So there is no reason this particular set of policies should work. I don’t think this report is very helpful or very interesting.”

Reactions to the report card from legislators were mixed.

“In just a short period of time, StudentsFirst has proven itself to be a leading voice for education reform and for our kids,” said Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Assembly Committee on Education and a Republican from Modesto, in a press release that accompanied the report. “They provide a necessary counterweight to influential unions and fight effectively for the kinds of student-focused policies that will improve public schools and increase achievement.”

But Joan Buchanan, chair of the state Assembly Committee on Education and a Democrat from Alamo, agreed with Plank. “Unfortunately the metrics used to develop the StudentsFirst report cards are based on the ideas of well-meaning school reformers, not quality research,” she said, adding that, for example, no merit pay program has resulted in increased student achievement.

Poor grades on how the state evaluates teachers could be expected from StudentsFirst, but California flunking empowering parents was surprising. In the report, the state is held up as an example because of its parent trigger law. California also has a robust charter movement and has been recognized as a national leader in how it funds charters.

The only category where California earned a “D” was on “spending wisely and governing well,” perhaps because of its recent decision to give districts more flexibility in how they spend their dollars and the suspension of its requirement to reduce class sizes for additional state funds.

Overall, said Sherry Griffith, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the policy ideas in the report are “real sexy” but overlook the great strides the state has made in student achievement.



Filed under: Evaluations, Pay and Tenure, Reforms, Teaching

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12 Responses to “Policymakers react to StudentsFirst's 'F' for California”

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  1. Gary Ravani on Jan 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm01/8/2013 3:50 pm

    • 000

    Rich Zeiger, from the NYT: “California’s chief deputy superintendent, called the state’s F rating a “badge of honor.”

    Could not have said it better myself.


    • el on Jan 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm01/8/2013 4:21 pm

      • 000

      Gary, that is the best reaction of a policymaker yet. :)

  2. Sonja L on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm01/8/2013 2:33 pm

    • 000

    Michelle Rhee has been shown to be a shill for the charter movement & GOP interests. She tends to speak for whomever pays her the most attention and $$. To waste our time with HER opinions on anything to do with education is lazy journalism. Cover the reasons behind how the study was done and who paid for it then compare that to reality: http://www.plunderbund.com/2012/10/30/michelle-rhee-funds-ohio-republicans-campaigns-against-ohio-teacher-of-the-year/

  3. el on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm01/8/2013 2:30 pm

    • 000

    Here is another article that I think had a little more realistic take on the StudentsFirst press release.


    begin quoted material
    Now imagine that Nutrition First is actually run by people who are fanatics about pizza, and they get most of their funding from Domino’s and Pizza Hut. When you look at the letter grades they give restaurants, you realize that they’re actually grading every restaurant not on how healthy it is to eat there, but by how much pizza they sell. Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, salad bars, steakhouses: every letter grade turns out to depend on criteria like “total pizza sales,” “amount of cheese on pizza,” “pizza topping variety.”

    When you look at the actual criteria Rhee is using to measure education policy, it’s pretty clear that it’s not really related to kids’ experience in school. It’s based on the political preferences of Rhee and her allies. Another thing to note is that these ratings don’t correlate at all with ways to measure outcomes for students—including graduation rates and 8th-grade math and reading test scores.


    If the name of your organization is “StudentsFirst,” you’d expect these grades to be based on how the schools are working for students rather than whether ideologues have scored political victories.
    end quoted material

    Of course, “StudentsFirst” has never been about students, not from the day it was founded, and every press release and action just makes that more apparent. When was the last time they asked students what they needed, or truly advocated something from the kid side up? I always thought the initial Newsweek article showing Rhee in front of a bunch of chalk outlines of kids perhaps told the story better than the glowing advertorial-like text that accompanied it.

  4. el on Jan 8, 2013 at 8:07 am01/8/2013 8:07 am

    • 000

    StudentsFirst gave its top score to Louisiana and a very high score to Washington DC.

    Ironically, it’s more important to them that you have a law that would let you use student test scores to fire teachers … than it is to actually get good test scores.

    This is a junk report and I’m disappointed that this article gave it any credence at all.


    • navigio on Jan 8, 2013 at 10:05 am01/8/2013 10:05 am

      • 000

      It also gave a high score to Florida. It may be worth noting that 91% of Florida’s public schools did not make AYP in 2011. I expect it was even higher last year.

  5. navigio on Jan 8, 2013 at 7:55 am01/8/2013 7:55 am

    • 000

    CA gets its best grade on spending and governing? I guess funding and staffing the worst in the country is a good thing? For whom exactly?

    The ‘report’ says that CA should amend its constitution so consistently low performing schools can be taken over by mayors. Didn’t Villaraigosa’s schools actually fare worse than those he didn’t take over?

    “California can improve in this area by removing all mandatory class size restrictions above the 3rd grade.” That just boggles the mind. All restrictions? Really? What exactly is the point of that? Lower taxes?

    Students FIrst also believes the API is too detailed. Easy: divide it by 200. :-(

    Btw, CA got an A on the parent trigger. How many kids has that helped so far?

    Students First gets an ‘F’ from me. I’ll give a press conference at noon for the media..


    • Manuel on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm01/8/2013 12:44 pm

      • 000

      It’s noon already and I am still waiting for information on your press conference.

      Is there a media kit? Please advise 😉

      • el on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm01/8/2013 2:37 pm

        • 000

        Perhaps navigio is on Hawaiian time today? :)

        • navigio on Jan 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm01/8/2013 3:00 pm

          • 000

          I wish!

          I must have dozed off reading CA’s ‘report card’.. and I missed my own press conference! I hope no one showed up.

          I’ll have to work on that media kit thingy Manuel. 😉

          • Manuel on Jan 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm01/10/2013 1:44 pm

            • 000

            I did show up at the undisclosed location (don’t worry, I won’t tell where it is but I gotta tell you that the taco cart nearby had great stuff).

            Still, I was looking forward to your ranking of states’ educational achievement as well as your criteria (are you taking into consideration students’ happiness quotient with their teachers and if not, why not?).

            Please let me know when the media kit is ready. 😉

  6. CarolineSF on Jan 8, 2013 at 7:03 am01/8/2013 7:03 am

    • 000

    Students First is a privately funded advocacy organization with strong political ties to the far right and a very clear right-wing agenda — promoting market-based “reforms” that have no track record of success. Should it be taken seriously enough to warrant news coverage or a response from officials?

    (The organization has dropped its efforts to appear bipartisan:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/04/michelle-rhees-studentsfi_n_2411484.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular )

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