Education policy outcomes are funny things

by Natasha
Today, Matt Yglesias praised Students First for coming out with a state-by-state education policy report card. In his own words, “Importantly it’s a report card assessing the state of education policy in different places, not outcomes.”

Maybe you’re different, but when I think education policy, outcomes rank pretty high up there on the list of things I care about. Students First even claims to care about outcomes, though how anyone could say with a straight face that they think we’ll get a better quality of education from a constantly churning, insecure, overworked, poorly paid, barely-graduated-yesterday teaching workforce, I can’t even pretend to know. But I digress. Let’s get to the funny bits … and remember, laughing is healthier for you than crying.

So, outcomes. While no one metric seems enough to convey the absolute quality of education, there are a lot of things we can look at to give us a general idea. One of them is high school graduation rates, which is a good way to say that 13 or so years worth of teachers managed to keep kids engaged enough that they completed a curriculum conferring basic literacy, numeracy, and at least some sense of history and global perspective. It’s not a perfect system, but it sure beats mass illiterate serfdom or sending most of the kids to the satanic mills, as was formerly the custom of our people.

This is the Students First state education policy report card. This is a map compilation of the 2010-2011 high school graduation rates by state. The chart below is a matchup of the top nine states in the country for high school graduation rates, with graduation rates expressed as a percentage, next to their Students First letter grade for education policy:

State      Grad %    SF grade
IA 88% F
VT 87% F
WI 87% D+
IN 86% C+
NE 86% F
NH 86% F
ND 86% F
TN 86% C-
TX 86% D

Do you find it hysterically funny that something calling itself an education metric gives some of its worst grades to the state education systems that come the closest to 90% high school graduation rates? Oh, come on. Are you trying?

What really makes that a laugh-riot for the ages is that the charter schools Michelle Rhee and the Students First crew are pushing often seem to get graduation results on the same order by getting rid of problem students. Or, as Laura Clawson detailed today at DailyKos, the cheesy plot of Pump Up The Volume is now a model education policy, supported by billionaires looking to squeeze a profit out of our public education dollars. In New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, DC, Ohio, Michigan and Texas, charter schools have been reported to have senior classes as much as 25-60% smaller than their freshman classes, allowing some of them to report near-miraculous high school graduation rates.

Not only do education privatization activists want to make it easy to fire teachers, they want to make it easy to fire students. Little Johnny or Susie can’t read? Learning disability? Didn’t get enough to eat last night or enough sleep in the car their family lives in? Mom is always too tired after her second shift to make them do their homework? They’re fired. I bet you care about that outcome if there’s even a chance we’re talking about your kid, or any kid you care about even a little bit. Public schools can’t usually give up on kids quite so easily; though some have been caught trying, it’s generally regarded as a scandal rather than a desirable plan of operations.

And is there anything funnier than firing kids? Of course!

Because the wackiest thing about the Students First report card is that Louisiana gets the highest grade of any state in the nation, with a B-. Louisiana. Just stew on that for a sec. Then click here for a list of hilarious things being taught in Louisiana’s state-approved charter school curriculum. Here’s a sample:

“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”—United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2001

Are you laughing yet? Okay, try this Yglesias quote on for size, “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,” and then go look again at what made the approved curriculum for Louisiana’s charter schools. If you were wondering, Students First gave Louisiana a passing grade of C- on the metric entitled, “Spend Wisely & Govern Well.”

If the governance bit wasn’t funny enough, here’s some of what spending wisely looks like in Louisiana: spending money on creationist ‘science’ curriculum and scholarships for middle class and wealthy students, favoring high administrative spending over direct instructional costs, and neglecting need-based higher education supports. Hilarious, amirite!?

2 Responses to Education policy outcomes are funny things

  1. PurpleGirl January 7, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Of course public schools fire students — they just say X number of students moved and the old school system doesn’t know if they have registered at a new school system yet. New York City and State have claimed that for years.

  2. Mike the Mad Biologist January 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    I’m glad you pointed out the curriculum craziness.

    What’s also nuts is: 1) states that do really well score poorly; 2) the countries that do better than the best U.S. states would fail miserably by StudentsFirst’s metric.

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