California schools flunk education group’s ratings

Students work on math problems at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California is sorely lacking when it comes to school reform, failing to adopt policies to limit teacher tenure and use student test scores in teacher evaluations, according to a rating of states issued Monday by a high-profile education advocacy group.

California received an overall grade of F, ranking 41st nationally, from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based group run by Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., whose outspoken views have polarized those who share her focus on improving the nation’s schools.

Her group’s “report card” concentrates “singularly on the education policies in place in each of our states,” Rhee said in a statement. “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.”


Critics said the ratings say more about Rhee’s views than about the state of the nation’s schools.

Eleven states received failing grades. California received its only high mark for being the birthplace of “parent trigger” laws, which allow parents, by petition, to replace the staff of a low-performing school or turn over the campus to an independently operated charter.

California’s schools would benefit from a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system that incorporates student achievement as a significant factor, the report said.

Such value-added formulas measure a teacher’s effect on a student’s learning through standardized test scores, taking into account a student’s past performance and such factors as race or poverty. Some experts and teacher unions are skeptical of the method, and those critics have had allies in Gov. Jerry Brown and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The California Department of Education had little use for Rhee’s rating, with Deputy Supt. Richard Zeiger telling the New York Times that the F grade was a “badge of honor.”

The department did not back down when the remark sparked some criticism.


“We’re quite happy that California is moving in the opposite direction,” said spokesman Paul Hefner. “We think that our schools are making incredible progress, given the enormous strains schools have been under in recent years.”

Rhee’s top-rated states are Louisiana and Florida; each earned a B-. No state earned an A.

Louisiana has been notable for converting many campuses to non-union charter schools. The state also allows lower-income students or those at poorly performing schools to receive public funds for private school. Florida requires 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance. Parents are notified when children are placed with a teacher designated as unsatisfactory, the report said.

Rhee’s system gives credit for aggressive state intervention as opposed to local control. Montana was among states receiving an F, in part for asserting “no authority to intervene when schools and districts are not meeting expectations.”

The Rhee system gives no direct credit for actual student achievement or the level of spending on schools. Massachusetts, which is frequently lauded in both areas, received a D+ from Rhee’s group.

Rhee rose to prominence as the head of schools in the District of Columbia, where she pressured educators to improve student achievement and fired many of them.