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Michelle Rhee continues her descent into parody. You might have thought that teaching students to read would be a good way to evaluate educational performance, but no. Rhee's StudentsFirst organization has released a report card grading states—on their education policies, not their educational results. In fact, not one of the states StudentsFirst ranks in the top five is in the top half of states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, "the nation's report card," when it comes to eighth grade reading scores, and only one is in the top half when it comes to eighth grade math.
  • Louisiana is the top-rated state, according to StudentsFirst. It ranks 49th of 51 on eighth grade reading scores and 47th of 51 on eighth grade math scores.
  • Florida is StudentsFirst's second-best state according to ideology. According to educational results, Florida is 35th on reading and 42nd on math.
  • StudentsFirst says Indiana is third. The "nation's report card" says it's 30th on reading and 23rd on math.
  • The District of Columbia, where Rhee had her way from 2007 to 2010, comes in fourth according to Rhee's ranking system. According to the NAEP? Dead last.
  • Rhode Island is fifth in Rhee-land. It's 29th in both reading and math on the NAEP.

By contrast, of the 11 states Rhee rates as having the worst policies for education, three are in the top six for eighth grade reading scores on the NAEP, and four more are in the top 20. Another contrast: The three highest-scoring states on reading are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Rhee scores them 14th, 21st and 18th.

Bear in mind that this complete disregard for educational results as measured by the gold-standard standardized test comes despite the fact that the StudentsFirst report card ranks states more highly for relying on standardized testing in teacher evaluations. (One reason the NAEP is the gold standard, by the way, is that it's less likely to be the subject of the kind of cheating that seems to have happened in D.C. under Rhee's leadership since it's not high-stakes so the incentive to cheat is low.)

And complacent reporters will aid StudentsFirst in spreading its grades without questioning their basis. In the New York Times, for instance, Motoko Rich notes only that "The ratings, which focused purely on state laws and policies, did not take into account student test scores," and not the upside-down relationship between the ratings and the scores. The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss is much, much better, as usual.

I've lost count of the times I've pointed to some egregious action by StudentsFirst or Rhee herself and said "if you needed proof it's not about putting students first, here it is." But if you still need proof of that, the fact that StudentsFirst is grading states not on how the students in those states are doing but on a set of corporate-backed policies that are at best unproven, and that the StudentsFirst results are actually negatively correlated with the best national measure we have of student achievement ought to do the trick.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 12:31 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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