Posted Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, at 3:13 PM
Michelle Rhee is a controversial figure, and anything her advocacy organization, Students First, does is going to attract a lot of derision. But having had the chance to play around with their "report card" on state policy, I think there's a lot to like here.
The best thing about it, really, is just that they did it. Importantly it's a report card assessing the state of education policy in different places, not outcomes. That lets you throw down some important markets. Only two states score above C+ on their ratings—Louisiana and Florida—and student learning outcomes in those states are far from the best in the nation. If Louisiana starts making a lot of progress in closing the gap with, say, Maryland, then that'll be powerful evidence for the Students First approach. But if it doesn't, then you get the reverse.
So by the same token, it'd be great to see organizations with different perspectives put out similar reports showing which places they think are getting things right and which are getting them wrong.
In policy terms, the most interesting thing about the Students First report is probably its treatment of charter schools. Charters have become a polarizing issue, so the tendency is for different institutions to line themselves up as either for charter schools or against them and to assess different jurisdictions' charter policies based on whether they're pro or anti charters. The Students First perspective more wisely dings states that make it too hard to open charters but also dings states (like, say, Arizona) that do much too little to hold charter schools accountable for performance.