Education Opinion

What to Make of StudentsFirst

By Walt Gardner — January 11, 2013 2 min read

In the short time that StudentsFirst has been in existence, it has left an indelible imprint on the school reform movement. The organization recently made headlines when it issued its report card on how well states are following the policies it deems indispensable for educational quality (“11 States Get Failing Grades on Public School Policies From Advocacy Group,” The New York Times, Jan. 7).

No state received an “A.” Only Florida and Louisiana received a “B-minus.” Alabama, California, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York got “D’ grades, with Connecticut a slight notch above with a “D-plus.” Contrary to popular belief, StudentsFirst does not use test scores in its ratings, basing its grades strictly on state laws and policies. Specifically, it takes into account how easily bad teachers can be fired, how many choices parents have, and how tightfisted school budgets are.

Like all advocacy groups, StudentsFirst has the right to make its voice heard. Whether students will indeed be the primary beneficiaries of the policies it favors, however, is another question. So far, I see little evidence that is the case, perhaps because Michelle Rhee is such a polarizing figure. But it may also be that education reformers historically have not significantly improved public schools. Rhee maintains that StudentsFirst is completely misunderstood (“Patt Morrison Asks: Hard lessons with Michelle Rhee,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 2012). She says that all she wants is to “recognize the most effective teachers, identify those who are not effective and quickly develop them or move them out of the profession.”

It’s an appealing argument, but how does StudentsFirst know who the best teachers are? When Rhee was chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, she instituted IMPACT in the 2009-10 school year to evaluate teachers. All teachers were supposed to receive five 30-minute observations during the school year, three by an administrator and two by an outside master educator with a background in the subject being taught. Their ratings were based on a framework with 22 different measures in nine categories. On paper the strategy was impressive, but in reality it was unwieldy. For example, every five minutes observers were expected to check for how many students were paying attention. Teachers were supposed to demonstrate they could tailor instruction to at least three learning styles.

Perhaps StudentsFirst will come up with a better way of evaluating teachers, schools and states. I’m always open to evidence. But so far, it seems to be largely based on corporate practices.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read