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D.C. education policy ranks 4th nationally: Study

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The District has the fourth-best education policy in the country, according to a report released Monday by former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's nonprofit StudentsFirst.

The report grades all 50 states and the District on whether each jurisdiction's education system prioritizes high-quality teaching, provides parents with information and choices about their children's schools and manages its finances well -- measures that StudentsFirst advocates in its work toward school reform.

Based on those criteria, the District earned a C+, behind top-performing state Louisiana, which earned a B-, and Florida and Indiana, which earned a B- and C+, respectively.

Maryland received a D+ and was ranked 17th, while Virginia received a D- and was ranked 38th.

The rankings
Rank State Grade
1 Louisiana B-
2 Florida B-
3 Indiana C+
4 District of Columbia C+
5 Rhode Island C+
6 Michigan C-
7 Hawaii C-
8 Arizona C-
9 Colorado C-
10 Ohio C-
17 Maryland D+
38 Virginia D-
51 North Dakota F

"The vast majority of states received a D or an F," said Eric Lerum, vice president of national policy at StudentsFirst. "They are pretty tough grades, but I think they are reflective of the environment."

The District earned particularly high marks for its Impact teacher

evaluation system, which was created by Rhee. The system relies on a combination of classroom observations and students' standardized test scores to rate teachers. Teachers who receive poor ratings risk being fired, while teachers who perform well are eligible for bonuses.

StudentsFirst also rewarded the District for giving parents access to teacher evaluation information and for offering alternatives to a student's neighborhood school, such as charter schools and scholarships that allow low-income students in chronically failing public schools to attend private schools.

The only "A" that the District received was for giving the mayor control of the public school system in 2007, when Rhee was chancellor and Adrian Fenty was mayor.

Across the Potomac, Virginia was criticized for its lack of "meaningful" evaluations for teachers, for not providing equal amounts of funding to both charter schools and traditional public schools and for not allowing mayors to take over low-performing districts.

Likewise, the report criticized Maryland for failing to decide whether to promote or fire a teacher based on teacher effectiveness and for its strict limitations on the number of charter schools. Montgomery County, for example, just opened its first charter school in the fall.

But the report did not consider student performance, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP -- known as the "Nation's Report Card" -- which is commonly used to rate school systems, Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle pointed out.

Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the District ranked last in both reading and math on the 2011 NAEP. On the other hand, Maryland's fourth-graders ranked fifth in math and third in reading, while Virginia's ranked ninth in math and eighth in reading. Education Week has ranked Maryland schools the best in the country for four years.

The report also offers a narrow definition of state education policy, said D.C. school board member Mary Lord.

"State-level policies are a lot broader than charter-school-enabling legislation or an individual school system's teacher-evaluation system," she said. "New Hampshire, for example, flunks, according to StudentsFirst. Yet the state is a national leader in innovative education policies."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner