The NPE Grade Card Gives a Real-World View of State School Policies

The Network for Public Education (NPE) unveiled its evaluation of how well the states and the District of Columbia support public schools. Education scholar Diane Ravitch introduced Valuing Public Education: a 50 State Report Card. It identified 29 measurable factors that guided the ratings of six criteria for improving schools.

My state of Oklahoma was tied for 9th from the nation's bottom, earning a D. That is no surprise because the state has a long history of getting high grades on objective report cards, such as Education Week's Quality Counts, for academic standards and early education policies, and pretty good grades for equity and financing processes, but deplorable grades for actual funding and success in overcoming the legacies of poverty. According to one compilation of the reliable NAEP scores, Oklahoma ranks 41th in the nation in student performance. After slashing appropriations by more than 25%, our funding has dropped to 49th in the nation.

The NPE grade card is very different than reports issued by ideology-driven reformers such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst. It was compiled with the assistance of Francesca Lopez and her University of Arizona research team. Valuing Public Education drew upon objective social science, such National Research Council's review of education literature and other reputable, contemporaneous sources. In other words, the NPE's evaluation is based on scholarly research - not the sound bites pushed by public relations departments in corporate-funded, "astroturf" think tanks. It evaluated states on No High Stakes Testing, Professionalization of Teaching, Resistance to Privatization, School Finance, Spending Taxpayer Resources Wisely, and Chance for Success.

So, how do the evaluations on policies by corporate reformers stack up against the traditional metrics of Quality Counts and the NAEP, as well as the NPE?

The rightwing ALEC gave Oklahoma an overall grade of B- for it education policies. In contrast to the B and B+ grades Oklahoma has traditionally received for academic standards, ALEC gave the state a D. On the other hand, it gave the state an A for Homeschool Regulation, with the A meaning "None." It also gave Oklahoma an A for Private School Choice, but that is not good enough for today's Republican leadership. Even though Oklahoma is #1 nationally in cutting public education, with more severe cuts in the pipeline, Governor Mary Fallin has just endorsed a voucher program which would further undermine school budgets.

ALEC gave Oklahoma an A for exiting "ineffective" teachers and a C+ for retaining effective teachers. The retention statistic will be news for Oklahomans in both parties. The state's teacher shortage is especially acute, with a record number of 1000 teachers hired with emergency certificates. One superintendent recently admitted that it isn't just unreasonable to expect new teachers to be as qualified as those who they replace; it is hard to find anybody to fill many positions.

StudentsFirst advocates for the same type of corporate reforms as ALEC, but it gave Oklahoma a D+. Rhee's organization gave Oklahoma a C for "empowering teachers" (who are fleeing our schools in droves.) It then called for performance pay and for increasing the weight for test score growth when evaluating teachers. Equally inexplicable, StudentsFirst called for increasing class sizes.

On the other hand, the Education Week's metrics were very similar to those issued by the NPE. Partially based on both the (nationally respected) quality of the state's promising, but still modest, early education efforts and our (deplorable) funding, Edweek gave Oklahoma a C for Chance for Success and ranked it 44th in the nation. The NPE grade was a D, with a somewhat higher national ranking.

Both Education Week and the NPE gave Oklahoma a D for finances. Edweek's grade of a D in terms of K-12 achievement and its ranking of 39th is very consistent with the NPE grade of D for Professionalization of Teaching. Education Week's overall grade of D+ and its overall ranking (46th) is also consistent with the NPE grade of D in terms of how education money is spent.

It should not be surprising that grade card results issued by market-driven reformers were all over the map, while the NPE researchers reached conclusions that were very consistent with the appraisals and the outcomes presented by Education Week and NAEP. The same pattern applies to patrons' and voters' judgments. After Oklahoma's Chief for Change and the ALEC-informed legislature and governor imposed virtually all of the corporate reform agenda, a bipartisan grassroots Opt Out movement prompted a revolt. I doubt many Oklahoma parents would challenge the NPE indictment of High Stakes Testing for lowering graduation rates, and "disparate and devastating effects on particular groups of students, such as English Language Learners."

Even when they support choice, Oklahomans agree with the NPE that charters should face "the same regulations and oversight as public schools." Oklahoma may have been slow in freeing ourselves from our Jim Crow history, but few support cut-throat competition that isolates students by race and class, creating "apartheid schools." My neighbors and colleagues also oppose the state's craze of "replacing teachers with technology [which] is misleadingly called 'personalized learning' when it actually reduces students' direct interaction with other human beings."

So, with Valuing Public Education, the NPE is throwing its thoughtful evaluation of state policies into the ring. It will certainly trump ALEC's and Michelle Rhee's vindictive grade cards in the marketplace of ideas. The NPE report will take its place as a transparent tool for appraising state efforts to fend off test, sort, reward, and punish mandates by so-called data-driven reformers. And, as the Oklahoma legislature convenes, the timing is perfect for inserting real evidence into our education debates. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, patrons, teachers and district leaders are trying to reverse the tragedies of the last few years, and the NPE grade card should help us.