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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Grades States On Education

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With a new and highly critical report card offering a business perspective on the effectiveness of state education systems, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today weighed in with a prescription for more innovative, efficient, and better-performing schools.

Titled “Leaders and Laggards,” the chamber’s 84-page assessment gives letter grades to each state based on indicators related to student achievement, teacher quality, and school management. A “return on investment” grade rates states on student performance per dollars spent, controlled for poverty.

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“This report reflects our premise that American education should be accountable, should be rigorous and innovative, and focus on student achievement,” said Arthur J. Rothkopf, a senior vice president at the chamber and the head of its education initiatives.

Many of the grades are given on a curve. Massachusetts, Utah, and Virginia got A’s for their returns on investment, while F’s went to Rhode Island, West Virginia, and New Mexico. California rated well on teacher-quality policies, and Arizona for flexibility in school management.

Based on existing data from multiple sources, the grades favor states where principals say they have greater control over hiring and finances, where systems exist to track the achievement of individual students over time, and where nontraditional schools, like charters, are thriving.

Along with the report card, the chamber unveiled a set of policy recommendations for states. Among them: judge education schools based on their graduates’ ability to improve student results; expand student learning time; and improve the collection and use of student data.

New Partnership

Along with the chamber, the reform platform was jointly drafted by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, a self-described progressive think tank led by John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton.

The partnership marks an unusual alliance, given the two groups’ opposition on other issues—such as increasing the minimum wage. But leaders of the two organizations said they share similar views on both the state of American education and on what’s needed to fix it.

“A nation that purportedly values human dignity, freedom, and advancement for all cannot tolerate the status quo that leaves our children dramatically undereducated and unprepared for an increasingly competitive and volatile global economy,” Mr. Podesta said at the report’s release.

For the chamber, the grades and policy platform further a concerted, new effort to shape education policy. Last year, the federation of more than 3 million businesses, based in Washington, launched an Institute for a Competitive Workforce in part to study the issue. In September, it joined other national business groups in advocating renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

While business organizations have long been part of the national discussion on improving public schools, the chamber’s reach is particularly extensive, given its active local and state affiliates. Mr. Rothkopf said his group plans to use that network to advance the policies it called for today.

“We’re in a lot of places,” he said in an interview. “And now, we’re going to energize those places.”

Vol. 26, Issue 26

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