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January 14, 2013 3 min read
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| NEWS | State EdWatch

Michelle Rhee’s Group Grades States, Harshly

Santa Claus may have a list that he checks twice, but the start of a new calendar year, and state legislative sessions, means that lists about state education policy proliferate. One getting a lot of chatter in The New York Times and elsewhere is the A-F “report card” on school policy from the Sacramento-based StudentsFirst education advocacy group.

Florida and Louisiana, both earned a B-minus, the highest grade awarded, while 11 states managed to “flunk” completely, and 25 states got a D-plus, D, or D-minus. Big states like Illinois, New York, and Texas all received Ds. California got an F, and North Dakota got the lowest GPA of all, a 0.40.

StudentsFirst (led by former District of Columbia public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee) wants objective data to be used in teacher evaluations, those evaluations to be used in staffing and tenure decisions, a higher number of and more equitable funding for charter schools, and for governments to “spend wisely” on K-12. Those factors were weighed to determine states’ grades.

Lawmakers in states with plans to revamp public schools might find the report card particularly useful. Newspapers in Georgia and Iowa had stories recently highlighting their poor grades from StudentsFirst, which might light a fire under legislators with big plans for 2013.

Foes of the controversial Rhee and of her policy preferences were quick to jump into the fray, however. In The New York Times piece, California Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger is quoted as saying that StudentsFirst “makes its living by asserting that schools are failing’’ and that he considered the state’s failing grade a “badge of honor.”

— Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

It’s 10 a.m.: Do You Know Where Your Students Are?

As with grizzly bears and migratory birds, putting GPS trackers on the elusive American high school student (Americanus adolescencus) is all the craze.

In attempts to mitigate truancy, more school districts are turning to technology, that they might find where absent students go (salmon fishing?) and lure them back. In Austin, Texas, one of the newest experimenters, schools are seeing progress after installing a GPS-tracking program that requires consent from both students and parents before initialization.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, students receive a GPS device upon entering the program and must check in with the school multiple times a day. Seventy-five students initially enrolled in the program last year,and early numbers show average attendance increased from 78 percent to 90 percent.

In the 4,200-student Northside Texas, district, the mandatory Radio Frequency Identification System has ruffled feathers.

The Dallas-based AIM Truancy Solutions runs Austin’s program and stands to make up to $1 million annually for demonstrable results, which means there’s good opportunity in GPS-locating services. Texas is one of many states that uses attendance to determine funding, so districts are understandably keen to make sure students come to class.

GPS tracking isn’t the only method employed to lessen absenteeism, of course. New longitudinal-data systems, used to identify struggling students, make sure to track attendance so that early interventions might be provided. Some districts use truancy officers to hold parents responsible, while other districts try to offer services that attract students to school, such as haircuts. Because teenagers love themselves a haircut. For our part, we suggest that when a student is absent, check for any nearby parades.

— Ross Brenneman

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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