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MO: Education group gives state D-minus, but critics question methodology

By   /   January 9, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog

RHEE: Missouri should tie teacher pay to student performance.

ST. LOUIS – Missouri scored poorly on a report card from education-advocacy group StudentsFirst, but critics argue the organization is pushing reforms that don’t necessarily improve the quality of education.

StudentsFirst gave the Show Me State a D-minus, placing it among the lowest-ranking states. Eleven states got an F.

Missouri was criticized for failing to tie teacher effectiveness to pay and tenure and for not adequately providing school information to parents.

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor who formed StudentsFirst, said the weak performance of states — none got an A, and only a dozen got a B or C — reflects how recently state governments have begun tackling issues her group advocates, such as performance evaluations and tenure.

“We wanted to show the progress that is being made, but in places where progress is slower to come, be very clear with leaders of that state what they could do to push the agenda forward and create a better environment in which educators, parents and kids can operate,” she said.

The report says Missouri’s educational policies “do not prioritize great teaching, empowering parents with quality choices or allocating resources wisely to raise student achievement.”

Rhee advocates allowing mayors to take control of low-performing school districts and strengthening the state’s ability to intervene when a school performs poorly.

StudentsFirst lauded Missouri for strengthening accountability for charter schools and expanding the authorization for more charter schools.

The study says the state will pilot a teacher evaluation system that includes student growth, multiple measures and a 0-7 scale of effectiveness. But the program does not require annual evaluations or define the threshold for student growth.

Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state “appreciates the feedback.”

“Some of the things we scored low on were because our educator evaluation system is still in the pilot stage,” she told Missouri Watchdog. “We think it will look a lot differently next year.”

Missouri is one of many states in which teacher pay is tied to level of education and years in the classroom, as opposed to how well the teachers’ students score on standardized tests — a practice that StudentsFirst would like to see changed.

But Potter said that won’t happen with the state’s locally directed model.

“The districts decide who they want to hire and the pay for teachers,” she said.

Randy Turner, an eighth-grade English teacher from Missouri who blogs for the Huffington Post, wrote the StudentsFirst report doesn’t examine important issues that affect student education, such as the state’s high poverty level and outdated technology and textbooks.

TURNER: Real education reform should start by helping the impoverished and improving classroom technology.

“Not surprisingly, considering the source, much of what is included in the report card are endorsements of the ‘reforms’ that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst have been pushing in state legislatures across the country, some of which have nothing to do with education,” Turner wrote.

Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent of schools, had scathing remarks for the report, calling the state’s F grade a “badge of honor.”

California was knocked because it doesn’t require its school districts to use standardized test scores or other objective measures in evaluating teachers.

“This group has focused on an extremely narrow, unproven method that they think will improve teaching,” Zeiger told The New York Times. “And we just flat-out disagree with them.”

Florida and Louisiana graded the highest on the report, with each getting a B-minus. Then Gov. Jeb Bush implemented the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test about a decade ago. Two-thirds of that state’s students failed the writing portion of the test last year, leading the Florida State Board of Education to pass an emergency rule lowering the test’s standards.

Some other reforms advocated by StudentsFirst include weakening teacher unions, giving merit pay to teachers and expanding charter schools and the use of vouchers.

Eight lobbyists registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission list StudentsFirst as their principal organization, including Rhee. On its website, the group says that 13 of 15 Missouri General Assembly candidates backed by the organization in the 2012 elections won their seats.

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— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]



Johnny Kampis is National Watchdog Reporter for Watchdog.org. Johnny previously worked in the newspaper industry and as a freelance writer, and has been published in The New York Times, Time.com, FoxNews.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A former semi-professional poker player, he is writing a book documenting the poker scene at the 2016 World Series of Poker, a decade after the peak of the poker boom. Johnny is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors.