Ravitch-Led Group Rates Most States Low on Its Education Priorities

By Daarel Burnette II — February 02, 2016 4 min read
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Many states rely too heavily on standardized testing, open their doors too easily to charters and other school choice options, and fall short in adequately paying and supporting their professional teaching force, according to a stinging report published Tuesday by the Network for Public Education, a group led by education historian and policy advocate Diane Ravitch.
The report, entitled “Valuing Public Education: A 50-State Report Card,” rates the states and the nation on an A to F scale in a half-dozen categories and overall, based on the group’s policy positions in areas such as teacher evaluation and compensation, testing, and the financial support of traditional public schools.

“The current policy framework that pushes for more testing and privatization has failed,” Ravitch, the co-founder and president of the group, said at a press conference at the National Press Club Tuesday. The meeting was attended by several supporters. “It’s insanity. Let’s try some common sense for a change.”

In its report card, the advocacy organization gave the nation as a whole a grade of D in every category except for high-stakes testing, where it was awarded a C. Thirty-seven states, in addition to the District of Columbia, scored an overall grade of a D or F, and 13 received a C, the highest overall grade awarded. (Some states received higher grades—including some A’s—in particular categories.)

Among the specific factors that figured into those scores:

  • A rejection of high-stakes testing for student graduation, promotion, and teacher evaluations;
  • The degree of “resistance to privatization,” including tighter restrictions on charter schools and rejection of parent-trigger laws and vouchers;
  • Measures aimed at gauging equity in school funding, as well as household income and employment, and school integration;
  • A wide range of teacher-related factors, including salary measures, a commitment to teacher experience, and rejection of merit pay;
  • How well taxpayer money is used, as measured by markers such as lower class sizes, pre-K and full-day kindergarten, and rejection of virtual schools.

“We give low marks to states that devalue public education, attack teachers, and place high stakes outcomes on standardized tests,” Ravitch wrote in her introduction to the report. And she went on to say, “It is our hope as advocates for public education that this report will rally parents, educators and other concerned citizens to strengthen their commitment to public schools.”

The Network for Public Education was launched in 2013 as a counterweight to what in its view was a barrage of attacks on teachers and traditional public schools after the release of the “Waiting for Superman” movie in 2010.

Among other things, the NPE opposes high-stakes testing, what it terms the privatization of public education, for-profit management of schools, and policies that contribute to a lack of support and respect for teachers.

Instead, the group advocates for racially integrated schools, funding of social services and replacing annual bell-curve tests with periodic sample tests such as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Accountability systems should target those administrators at the top, rather than the teachers at the bottom, Ravitch said.

The group’s report card comes less than two months after passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the updated version of the main federal K-12 law, which is expected to give states greater authority to shape their school accountability systems. State legislatures are expected in the next year to debate many of those policies.

The organization concedes in its report that it set a high bar in rating the states on its policy priorities. The report gives an overall failing grade to eight states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas.

But the report also noted what it called some “bright spots.” It specifically cited Alabama, Montana, and Nebraska for rejecting high stakes testing and what it called privatization. And Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia all received A’s in the “resistance to privatization” category.

“There are no silver bullets in education,” said Carol Burris, the executive director of the organization. “Turning schools around takes hard work, and it happens incrementally over time.”

The NPE report card was modeled after national report cards issued by groups such as StudentsFirst and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which advocate for more charter schools and student choice, among other priorities.

Inez Feltscher, the director of the ALEC task force on education and workforce development, said charters and other school choice programs have proven to be effective.

“Giving parents the flexibility to place their children in the learning environment that works best without undue regulatory interference from state bureaucrats is a win for students, not a reason to give a state a lower grade,” said Inez Feltscher, the director of the ALEC task force on education and workforce development.

The Network for Public Education has published its report online and plans in the near future to distribute individual report cards for each state.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.