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As Julian Vasquez Heilig notes in his new article in The Nation, public policy groups have recently gotten into the business of ranking states by criteria that reflect their own political or ideological biases.
Thus, the far-right ALEC rates states by their willingness to privatize public schools and to lower standards for teachers, because ALEC believes in privatization and the elimination of government regulations. StudentsFirst put out a state report card that ranked states by similar criteria, the ones that reflected Michelle Rhee’s policy preferences: reducing the rights and status of teachers, promoting charters and vouchers, and–no surprise–Louisiana and Florida came out as best in the nation, although these states are usually noted for their low quality of education. The Brookings Institution has recently ranked districts by their embrace of school choice, not surprising because the director of research for the George W. Bush administration–Grover Whitehurst–created the report card. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the journal Education Next have their report cards, too, giving plaudits to states that prioritize privatization and rigorous tests.
Heilig, who is a member of the board of directors of NPE, contrasted these report cards–all emanating from rightwing sources–with the NPE 50-state (plus DC) report card:
NPE’s report card evaluates all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to six research-based criteria: support of high-stakes testing, professionalization of teaching, resistance to privatization, equity in school finance, spending taxpayer resources wisely and student chance for success.
The bad news is that most states are not doing very well. NPE were tough graders as no state received more than a “C”. However, the new NPE report card isn’t distracting us with a pleasing facade covering up a lack of what’s important.
Understanding that the closing of the achievement gap in our nation considerably slowed during the No Child Left Behind era of testing and accountability, NPE did not prioritize performance on standardized exams for students or high-stakes testing evaluating teacher performance.
Contrary to previous report cards, NPE agreed with the American Educational Research Association and rewarded states with demanding certification requirements, lower attrition, higher pay, and the support of teachers with certification and experience.
Instead of an emphasis on top-down, private control, and privatization, NPE’s report card rewarded states that protect neighborhood community schools and disallow the use of public money for private and religious schools.
NPE’s report also gave “high grades to states that implemented the most adequate and equitable funding” across communities. Equitable funding in the Student First report cards, in contrast, means that charter schools received funding priority—including resources for facilities that corporations or individuals would ultimately own even though the property was purchased by the public (as is the case in Arizona).
NPE’s report card prioritized investments in community-based solutions, including Pre-K and class size reduction—reforms that make the gold standard in the research literature in terms of student success.
The NPE report card also included measures of child poverty and school segregation across states—“chance for success” metrics that neither ALEC nor Students First included in recent report cards.