Some things are simply as predictable as day following night. One of those things is the reaction of Vermont’s educational establishment to any criticism about its obsession with centralized political control over the state’s educations system. Vermont recently received an “F” on a report on states’ efforts at school reform. This story was covered by Vermont Digger:
Vermont took home an F on an education policy report card released Monday by the national advocacy organization StudentsFirst, but the state’s education leaders aren’t feeling deflated.
StudentsFirst was formed in 2010 by the former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee. Rhee has been an advocate for education reform, calling for creating more charter schools, using students’ test scores to evaluate teachers, and determining tenure and salary on the basis of those evaluations.
Rhee explained the harsh scores (the highest score was a B minus and went to only two states) to New York Times reporter Mokoto Rich. “We wanted to show the progress that is being made, but in places where progress is slower to come, be very clear with leaders of that state what they could do to push the agenda forward and create a better environment in which educators, parents and kids can operate,” she said. Vermont was one of 11 states that received an F.
Not surprisingly, this news was met with by simply whistling past the graveyard:
Armando Vilaseca, Vermont’s commissioner-recently-turned-secretary of Education, said StudentsFirst “loses their credibility when they rate us so low and our outcomes are so high.”
The executive director of the Vermont School Board Association, Steve Dale, said, “This particular system is based on their own biases. … I don’t see it as a scale that should be of a lot of concern.” These biases, Dale added, don’t match up with the “areas that have driven Vermont’s focus.”
StudentsFirst doled out grades based on states’ policies; they did not factor test scores, graduation rates, and other outcome-based measurements into the evaluation. Vilaseca pointed out that Vermont consistently ranks among the highest in the nation for high school graduation rates and NAEP scores, a national assessment referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.”
True North contributor Marin Harris has writtn numerous article about the creative use of test scores to hide results that are not up to par and former Vermont Tiger writer and economist Art Woolf has pointed numerous times that our scores really are not that high when an apples to apples demographic comparison is made. This is especially significant when we take into account that Vermont has one of the highest per pupil spending rate on the public school system in the country. Another matter is that even when test scores are high, it does not necessarily indicate good policy. Good teachers and involved parents can partially negate unproductive educational policy. One criticism is that: “StudentsFirst doled out grades based on states’ policies.” Let’s take a closer look at their criteria and how it clashed with Vermont’s policies:
Vermont lost points right off the bat for the control it gives to local school districts. StudentsFirst wants control to shift from districts to the state level, which would allow the state to intervene to take over administration of low-performing districts.
The state also scored poorly because it hasn’t authorized a charter school system nor has it instituted a grading system (A-F) for schools that would enable parents to remove children from failing schools.
Not surprisingly, a platform predicated on replacing collective bargaining with evaluation-based tenure and salary decisions does not sit well with Vermont’s teachers union. Darren Allen, spokesman for Vermont National Educators Association (Vermont-NEA), said they “discount anything that Michelle Rhee has to say out of hand.”
Here is the crux of the conflict. StudentsFirst believes in parental control over decision making in regard to educational policy and Vermont’s educational establishment is defending a policy that gives the teachers unions and themselves control over educational decision making. Like health care, and just about everything else the state involves itself in, there is an assumption that policy making decisions should be kept in the hands of a select group of state approved “experts”. The push for a parent knows best approach to decision making in educational policy is aimed at getting parents as involved as possible in educational decision making. The basis for such an aim is numerous studies, which make the case that parental involvement is a key factor in educational achievement.