Advocacy group ranks R.I. public schools fifth in nation

StudentsFirst praises R.I. teacher evaluations but criticizes parent policies and lack of transparency

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rhode Island’s public education system was ranked fifth in the nation in a January report from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by education reform proponent Michelle Rhee.

While only receiving a grade of “C+,” Rhode Island scored higher than neighboring Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Eleven other states received failing grades from the organization.

StudentsFirst aims to improve the American public education system by building a nation-wide grassroots movement geared toward pursuing education reform, according to StudentsFirst’s website.

The State Policy Report Card was created “to evaluate each state’s educational laws and policies,” and thereby evaluate how the state is crafting education systems that matches “the needs of all children and puts them on a path towards success,” according to the website.

Unlike traditional achievement evaluations, which may focus on school-wide performance on standardized tests, , the StudentsFirst report card assesses state education policies, according to a Jan. 7 StudentsFirst press release.

Using a traditional A-to-F letter grade system to evaluate and rank the efficacy of education policies in all 50 states, the StudentsFirst rubric evaluated the systems based on their teaching policies, parent-school relationships and finances.

StudentsFirst described Rhode Island as “a leader in education reform” in its report, citing the state’s efforts to strengthen the teacher evaluation process and government willingness to intervene in struggling school districts.

The report also praised the state’s accountability measures to ensure the wise allocation of resources.

“They gave us a lot of credit because we are one of the few states who use an evaluation system that is not a teacher-specific evaluation system, but rather an educator evaluation system,” meaning that principals, school leaders and the Commissioner on Education are also evaluated, said Elliot Krieger, executive assistant for communications for the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education.

But StudentsFirst also criticized Rhode Island’s system for its lack of transparency and communication with families, awarding Rhode Island a “D+” in this category.

“We lost points in part because schools do not notify parents of the evaluation that each teacher receives,” Krieger said. “We believe the teacher’s individual rating is a private matter not to be publicized.”
Massachusetts — which has historically led the country in test scores and student performance — received an overall grade of “D-,” scoring lower than Rhode Island in all three categories. StudentsFirst called Massachusetts’ education policies “sub par,” citing considerable achievement gaps and limited education funding for minority students in its report.

StudentsFirst reports have been criticized by educators and other reformers for using an ambiguous grading rubric and allegedly pursuing a particular agenda.

Warren Simmons, executive director at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said readers “must take the (organization’s) findings with a grain of salt, because their areas of focus and definitions of their indicators are very narrow.”

The organization’s grading rubric used very broad language that could potentially mislead the public about the meaning of grades assigned, he added.

But the report’s findings are valid if readers remember that “there are just more tools and factors to consider and a much broader array of things under categories — like teacher effectiveness — that Rhode Island should be graded on,” Simmons said.

  • T

    Yes, but would she send her kids to public schools in providence? probably not… What a depressing article.

    • T+

      It’s not the schools that are comparably good, its the policies. Implementation is another ballgame.