National school report paints dire picture

Republican state Rep. Ryan Aument. — PHOTO COURTESY RYAN AUMENT.COM

Pa. rated a ‘D-’ on state-by-state report

 

The good news, according to the recently released, first-ever State Policy Report Card issued by national education nonprofit StudentsFirst, is that Pennsylvania, at 19th, ranks in the upper half of states in terms of education reform; the bad news is the grade the commonwealth received — “D+” — shows that Pennsylvania still has a long way to go in terms of remodeling its public education offerings.

Leaders from StudentsFirst, including its founder and CEO Michelle Rhee, held a conference call to explain the merits of the grades, which are based on the group’s three pillars of education: elevating and improving the teaching profession, empowering parents with information and choice and, finally, ensuring public dollars are being spent wisely on student education.

Parents, educations and stakeholders can view and download the report card on StudentsFirst website, http://reportcard.studentsfirst.org.

“The most powerful way to improve student achievement from outside the classroom is to shape policy and implement laws at the state level that govern education,” Rhee said. “That is why our report card focuses singularly on the education policies in place in each of our states. And when we look solely at policy, it’s clear that we have a long way to go toward improving our education system in America.”

That this is the first year of the report card, a tough grade could be expected, as only two states — Louisiana and Florida — earned the highest grades of all states by obtaining a “B-” for “beginning to adopt this kind of student-centered policies that bring more rigor and accountability into their school systems and expand parents’ access to quality school choice.”

Even school districts that normally produce above-average student grades have scored poorly on the StudentsFirst Report Card. Massachusetts, for example, is usually is in the top one-third of states when it comes to student test scores, but the state also experienced a widening achievement gap between white and Hispanic students, which contributed to the state receiving a “D+” grade.

In the tri-state area, Pennsylvania fell right between Delaware, which received a “C-,” and New Jersey, which received a “D.”

“Pennsylvania has the opportunity to become a leader by enacting innovative education policies. In order to do this, the state must continue to build on the momentum created in 2012,” said StudentsFirst Pennsylvania Director Ashley DeMauro. “We must continue to work together to ensure all students are given the opportunity to achieve. It’s an issue that affects our state’s economic competitiveness and one of utmost importance when it comes to placing our children on a path of lifelong success.”

Specifically, Pennsylvania was cited as a standout model based on the implementation of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and the state’s increased fiscal transparency in the education sector.

Showing that education can trump partisanship, two state legislators from opposite sides of the aisle agreed with StudentsFirst assessment of Pennsylvania public education, and vowed to act on them.

“The StudentsFirst report card is a thoughtful, well-researched tool that helps lawmakers and parents see where states stand relative to one another on some of the most important measures in education today,” said Democratic state Representative Brendan Boyle. “I believe the more information the better. So I appreciate having this tool as we work toward creating policies that give parents more information, reward good teachers and force government to spend tax dollars wisely.”

Ryan Aument, a Republican state representative whose serves Lancaster County and is influential in state education legislation, also endorsed the report card.

“This report card should be used as an education reform roadmap because it charts the path toward truly improving our schools, with a singular focus on students,” said Aument. “It grades state laws and shows where policymakers can do a better job of helping transform public schools, and it makes it a valuable tool for anyone concerned with the state of education.

“As the prime sponsor of Pennsylvania’s legislation that improved our educator evaluation system last session, I am pleased about the progress Pennsylvania is making and plan to continue building on the momentum.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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