What's Behind Pennsylvania's D+ on Education?

JANUARY 9, 2013 | by PRIYA ABRAHAM, BOB DICK

StudentsFirst MapStudentsFirst, a bipartisan education reform group, released report cards for all 50 states evaluating individual state education laws and policies—and the news wasn't good for Pennsylvania, which received a "D+" overall. Although 31 states did worse, and the state scored higher on some measures—such as a "B" in comprehensive evaluation of teachers—Pennsylvania is still lagging on important fronts.

On empowering parents with information, for example, Pennsylvania scored an "F." If parents don't have a simple way to assess the performance of local schools, which Pennsylvania currently lacks, how will they know if they need to seek alternative education options for their children? One reform would be to require that each school receive an annual report, which would provide a letter grade (A-F) based on student achievement.

StudentsFirst further recommends that the state be required to notify parents on teacher effectiveness. Another policy factoring into weak parental empowerment: Pennsylvania lacks a parent trigger law that would allow a majority of parents to turn around failing and poorly managed schools.

Pennsylvania also received a "D" on school choice. Although the state has made progress in this area, there is no comprehensive opportunity scholarship program available to all students to escape failing public schools.

Another problem in providing school choice is how we treat charter schools. Only school districts are permitted to authorize charter schools (which, as we've mentioned, is like asking McDonald's to authorize the opening of a new Wendy's next door). This limits charter school growth because districts are reluctant to give up funds to the newly authorized schools.  The state should also establish clearer rules for closing down failing charter schools and rewarding good ones, and make funding more equitable across all types of public school options.

To grade states, StudentsFirst used three policy pillars—elevating teaching, empowering parents and using resources wisely—with multiple categories under each pillar. As such, the states ranked 1 and 2 respectively, Florida and Louisiana, have done much to reform public education. Explaining the dismal results for most states, StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee wrote:

Our schools are supposed to be America's great equalizers, ensuring every kid a shot at success. We know, given the right tools, that every student can achieve at high levels. Maybe sending our state education systems home with an "F" or a "D" is the strong jolt lawmakers need to remember that student-centered education policies are the foundations on which strong schools are built.


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