Georgia gets poor marks from school choice group

An influential education advocacy group has given Georgia poor marks for policies it says don’t go far enough in providing information and choices to school parents.

Georgia got a D+ in the A-F report card being issued today by StudentsFirst, the Washington, D.C.-based group led by former D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

The state’s policies were assigned a grade-point average type numerical value — a 1.42 — that equates to a D+. Georgia’s numerical grade placed it 15th in the country.

In an extensive rating system that examined state policies but not student outcomes, StudentsFirst gave no state an A. Louisiana (2.81, B-), Florida (2.73, B-) and Indiana (2.46, C+) got the highest marks.

D.C.’s policies also got high marks, despite the fact that its education outcomes in such areas as graduation rates and standardized test scores are among the lowest in the nation.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said StudentsFirst is an advocacy group whose ratings should be seen in that context. He noted that Rhee’s tenure in D.C. was a stormy one and that the district she once led was given high marks.

“Michelle Rhee got pushed out for a reason,” Fort said. “She was more concerned about the politics of school choice than the outcomes of students.”

StudentsFirst has strong relationships with legislators across the country, and it weighs in on hot political issues that touch on education.

For example, it backed the charter schools constitutional amendment Georgia voters approved in November. Passage of that amendment could lead to the establishment of more charter schools.

In a conference call with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, StudentsFirst officials said state policies were evaluated based on three areas: spending wisely and governing well; elevating teachers and empowering parents.

On that last front, StudentsFirst backs “parent trigger” legislation that gives parents the option of having their school changed from a traditional public school to a charter school. The group also wants the state to implement a parent notification system that would tell them if their child’s teacher received a poor evaluation in two of the past three years.

State Sen. Fran Millar, the Atlanta Republican who chairs the Senate Education and Youth Committee, lauded the work of StudentsFirst.

“It focuses on the right policies, such as those that give parents more information, reward good teachers and force government to spend tax dollars wisely,” he said in comments supplied to the AJC by StudentsFirst.

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