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Sherman Dorn, (813) 974-9482,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Agenda Drives Education Report Card

Review of StudentsFirst "report card" finds little or no usefulness as an examination of existing policy or as guidance for future policy

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Feb. 20, 2013) –  "Report cards" that grade states on their education policies assign rankings that vary tremendously, depending on the political ideology of the grader, according to a new review released today. As a result, every state has been assigned a "D" or "F" by at least one of these report cards in the past few years, and almost every state can claim an "A" or "B" grade from another report card.

Sherman Dorn, professor of education at the University of South Florida, and Ken Libby, doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed the State Policy Report Card from StudentsFirst; an organization founded and headed by Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. They discovered great variation in grading results as part of their broader examination of the overall genre of state report cards.

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The StudentsFirst report card assigned letter grades to states based on whether state policies matched the advocacy group's policy preferences in 24 areas that include school choice, test-based accountability, and greater centralization of school governance.

"As is common with the 'grading the states' genre, the report card is designed to provide a simple news hook in the 'grade,'" the reviewers observe. In describing how this process works, Dorn and Libby point readers to several news organizations that published stories upon the newest report card's release.

Dorn and Libby continue: "While the relative rankings are predictable, based on the organization's stated policy goals, the exercise of assigning grade labels to states is a political act designed to advance a particular agenda rather than a serious academic exercise."
Moreover, the proliferation of such state "grades" has had the effect of undermining the news value of such reports, as comparisons among various such reports show that all but three states can point to an "A" or "B" from some such assessment, while every state also has received Ds or Fs.

The report card might be considered useful as a compilation of policies by state, the reviewers write. If clearly explained and based on criteria that advance student learning, state grading exercises can provide useful summaries of a given state's strengths and weaknesses. However, as with the new StudentsFirst report card, when the data collected for rating purposes has a narrow scope and is merely shorthand for an advocacy position, it has little or no usefulness as an examination of existing policy or as guidance for future policy.

Find State Policy Report Card published by StudentsFirst on the web at:

Find the review by Sherman Dorn and Ken Libby on the GLC website:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and practice

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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