North Carolina received a D grade in a recent report  card put out by Students First, a national education advocacy group run by the polarizing Michelle Rhee. Normally, getting a bad grade on one of the slew of “report cards” issued by various education groups is cause for some degree of consternation, but an inspection of the methodology that Students First employs makes it hard to take this report too seriously.
The most surprising omission from this study is that Students First in no way factored in the most important variable for determining if an education system is working well or not: student achievement. State proficiency scores, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), international benchmarking tests, and gains made on these measures are not included in Students First’s methodology. Instead of looking at whether or not schools are performing well in given states, Rhee’s group focuses on whether or not the states are adopting the policies for which Students First advocates. This approach leads to results that do not comport with what we know about how schools in various states compare with one another.
For example, Louisiana is arguably the most troubled state school system in the nation, with NAEP scores  that consistently rank in the bottom 5 states and seemingly constant legal  and accountability  debacles. But it gets the highest grade of B- on Students First’s report. The nation’s top performing school systems get the poorest marks in Students First’s report. The highest performing school systems in terms of the NAEP (Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey) as well as the state has the made the greatest gains on the NAEP over the past 20 years (Maryland), all received D’s and F’s. If North Carolina’s goal is to improve educational achievement for it’s students, then getting a D on Students First’s report card may not be such a bad thing after all. The state is certainly in much better company than if it had received the highest grade.