Pass or Fail? Michelle Rhee Grades Education in Your State

StudentsFirst gave out more than one F in their 2013 State Policy Report Card.

Michelle Rhee at her office in Sacramento. (Photo: Max Whittaker/Reuters)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee, is perhaps the most controversial education reform organization in America.

While some advocates admire Rhee's work, others are vehemently against the former Washington, D.C. chancellor's approach.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Huffington Post in June that "no one who's serious about really doing education reform for kids would also engage at the same time in the union busting and the demagoguery of teachers that StudentsFirst engages in routinely."

On the other hand, Howard Fuller, the former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, who is known for his role in the school choice movement, has said that Rhee is "on the right track with StudentsFirst." "She's doing the right thing by reaching into the community to work with the relevant constituencies—the educators, parents, administrators, concerned citizens—to join her in what will surely be a transformative campaign for education reform," said Fuller.

Rhee has made strong and fast moves in education reform, and on January 7, StudentsFirst released a report that again thrust them into the spotlight.

More: Exclusive: Michelle Rhee Takes Aim at Teacher Tenure

Their 2013 State Policy Report Card grades states on education laws and policies instead of education outcomes. In putting the report together, StudentsFirst took into consideration whether the state elevates the teaching profession, empowers parents, spends wisely and governs well. No state received an A, and 11 states received an F. The best ranked states were Louisiana and Florida. They both received a B-.

The report says that these two states were chosen partly because they are "exemplary states in terms of instituting laws and policies that elevate the teaching profession. Both states have moved aggressively to ensure that teacher effectiveness drives all personnel decisions."

States that scored an F include California, Alabama, and Vermont.

California gets a failing grade, the report states, because "the state trails most of the country in enacting critical education reforms. California does not evaluate teachers and principals in a meaningful way, and it does not link student performance, educator performance, and district personnel and salary decisions."

Vermont, according to StudentsFirst, "does not provide parents with meaningful information regarding school or teacher performance, and parents have no educational options when their children are trapped in low-performing schools."

In Alabama, teachers "remain locked into the state's pension system, preventing districts from offering more attractive, portable retirement plans."

You can view where your state stands here.

The report card may seem harsh, but Rhee told The New York Times, "We didn't say in any way that we want to show people how bad it is. We wanted to show the progress that is being made, but in places where progress is slower to come, be very clear with leaders of that state what they could do to push the agenda forward and create a better environment in which educators, parents and kids can operate."

If you want to see more of Michelle Rhee, check out the Frontline exclusive on January 8.

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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