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Administrators Must Push Statewide Reform, Report States

In January, the controversial results of the StudentsFirst State Policy Report Card made national headlines. The report, which ranked states A through F based on how well their policies aligned with the reform group’s agenda, gave 11 states a failing grade, and awarded none an A. It also underscored the role of district leaders in enacting school reform by outlining each state’s policies and determining where administrators can implement changes.

StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee speaks on education reform in Washington, D.C.StudentsFirst, an education reform movement led by former Chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools Michelle Rhee, advocates in part for using test scores for teacher evaluations and state intervention in low-performing districts. The highest grade, a B-minus, was awarded to two states (Florida and Louisiana) that have policies in line with these reforms, including basing salary decisions on classroom effectiveness and providing a strong network of public charter schools. More than two-thirds of the states received a D or an F.

“Our theory is if you have the right policy environment in place, you will start to see the student results,” says Eric Lerum, StudentsFirst vice president of national policy. And a number of state policies give district leaders the power to reform schools, such as with performance pay for teachers. “In a lot of cases, districts have been doing their business the same way for years, and no one is looking at state policy to realize they could bust out of the traditional way of doing things,” Lerum says.

Administrators can see their state’s score on each policy objective outlined in the report to determine where there is flexibility to implement changes at the district level. For example, if more administrators testified at state budget hearings for additional money for K12 education, they would have increased control in managing their budget, which is a key driver of reform, says Rebecca Sibilia, StudentsFirst director of fiscal policy.

Despite the low marks, “a lot of the time schools and districts are succeeding, even though state policies aren’t setting them up for success,” Lerum says. “What we are advocating for is that states help strong district administrators by giving them the autonomy and flexibility to get the best staff in the classrooms and schools.”

To read the report, visit