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Tennessee scores C on StudentsFirst report card

StudentsFirst, an advocacy group founded by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, released its second annual report card today, and Tennessee earned a C.

The StudentsFirst report card ranks states on how well their policies “Elevate the Teaching Profession,” “Empower Parents,” “Spend Wisely and Govern Well.”

A state’s score in each category is determined by whether it has adopted a number of individual policies StudentsFirst advocates for: For instance, the “Elevate the Teaching Profession,” states received points for policies that establish evaluations for teachers and principals; use those evaluations for personnel decisions; end seniority-based layoffs; eliminate tenure; implement “performance pay” for teachers; and creating alternate pathways to teaching, among other suggestions. Here are more details about the other policies StudentsFirst looked for as it ranked states.

Though Tennessee’s 2.1 “GPA” on the StudentsFirst report may not seem like much to brag about, Tennessee was actually ranked above more than half of all of the states. The report’s national average was a D+.  Not a single state received an A. Rural states overall performed worse on this measure.A few states’ scores, including Tennessee’s, improved from last year to this year.The report card evaluates policies, not students’ academic achievement. And alignment with these policies does not line up with states’ overall performance on national standardized tests, for instance. Florida and Louisiana, which are top scorers on the StudentsFirst report card, received average and below-average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, this year, for instance.  

StudentsFirst says Tennessee’s recent improvement on the NAEP is evidence that some recent policy changes – which put it more in alignment with StudentsFirst’s priorities – are working.

“Tennessee’s recent improvement on student achievement provides some evidence that meaningful education reforms are working,” said StudentsFirst Tennessee State Director Brent Easley in a press release. “Our leaders should be encouraged by the rise in Tennessee’s report card grade, and motivated to continue the course for reform.”

StudentsFirst says it will spend next year advocating for further changes to Tennessee’s education policies. StudentsFirst’s recommendations for the state: “And as reflected by the report card, Tennessee can continue to build on progress by prioritizing the growth of high-performing charter schools through better authorization and more rigorous accountability, and expanding opportunities for low-income students in struggling districts by creating a targeted scholarship program.”

Those priorities are not uncontroversial. A proposed voucher program and the expansion of the charter school sector have stirred debate in Nashville and beyond, with critics claiming that such policies will, among other outcomes, drain financial resources from regular public schools. 

Tennessee’s standards and teacher-based policies were also applauded in a recent Education Week report, Quality Counts.