By Mike Klein
Pop Quiz: Is there ever anything good about receiving a D+ grade?
This week the public education watchdog StudentsFirst ranked Georgia 15th nationally in a report that analyzed state laws and policies rather than student performance. The D+ grade assigned to Georgia considered improvements in public charter school laws and a new teacher evaluations format but the report card downgraded Georgia for weakness empowering parents with meaningful information and deficiencies in financial accountability policies.
The overall message to Georgia is the state has plenty of room for improvement. And, that is also true nationally.
Grading states in a numerical range that produced an “A-to-F” format, no state received an “A” in the StudentsFirst report card. Louisiana (B- and 2.88) and Florida (B- and 2.73) finished one-two. Georgia (D+ and 1.42) placed behind Tennessee (C- and 1.75) which ranked eleventh. States were evaluated in three major categories: elevating teaching, empowering parents and spending wisely. Thirty-eight states scored “D or F” and ten states scored “C”.
The summary stated, “Georgia recently took a bold step in elevating the teaching profession by eliminating seniority-based layoffs. Georgia enacted legislation in 2012 that requires districts to use educator performance – significantly informed by student academic growth – as the primary factor in determining layoffs. This legislation has the potential to inspire continued improvements in the state’s education policies.”
StudentsFirst was founded in 2010 by Michelle Rhee after her tenure as the Washington, D.C. public schools system chancellor ended with her resignation. Widely known as a high profile reformer and advocate for students, Rhee was often at odds against entrenched bureaucracy.
The national education policies analysis is the first issued by StudentsFirst. “It is real tough to use test scores as the sole metric for students living in different towns, different parts of town, different parts of the country,” said Bradford Swann, Georgia state director for StudentsFirst. “This report solely focuses on the laws that are in place to bring about education reform.”
Swann cited the example of Louisiana which placed first in the StudentsFirst report even though its fourth and eighth grade students scored in the bottom 10 percent nationally in 2011 math and reading tests. The state adopted policies that link personnel and salary decisions to student performance. Louisiana also enacted stronger public charter school and voucher policies.
Swann said Louisiana is “building a foundation that will allow them to really bring about student achievement not for one or two years but for the long haul. That is the key point. For the next 20 years, do you have the tools in place so you can advance your students?” Swann recently joined StudentsFirst after serving on the staff of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.
A new Georgia teacher evaluation system that StudentsFirst cited as a positive step forward was criticized this week when initial results showed just 1 percent of teachers evaluated in a pilot project were determined to be ineffective. Given that Georgia elementary students score low on national tests, and the state’s four-year high school graduation rate is among the lowest nationally, critics quickly suggested the new teacher evaluation format needs some work.
Here are more highlights from the Georgia section:
Elevate Teaching: “Georgia does not substantively assess its educators … While the existing statewide evaluation includes classroom observations and student growth, it lacks key criteria … such as a four-tier rating of effectiveness, significant student growth and student surveys. Similarly, principal evaluations lack all essential criteria of comprehensive evaluations.”
Empower Parents: “Currently, Georgia parents do not have access to meaningful information that enables them to engage in their schools and to make informed decisions for their children … Georgia should require A-F letter grades for schools rather than a star rating system. Georgia should also provide for notifying parents of teacher ineffectiveness and allow parents access to teacher quality information … Georgia should establish a parent trigger law that allows a majority of parents to band together at the grassroots level and petition to turn around low-performing schools throughout the state.”
Spend Wisely and Govern Well: “Georgia should empower data-driven decision making by improving the financial data it collects and linking spending to academic achievement. If school districts mismanage resources, Georgia should provide for governance changes … Georgia should move to a portable employer-sponsored retirement plan and permit public charter schools to opt out of the plan.”
Click here read the complete Georgia section on the StudentsFirst website.