- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2013

One of American education’s leading provocateurs still knows how to set off a firestorm.

Former D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on Monday unveiled her first “report card” grading education policies in every state.

Its conclusion is that, with a handful of exceptions, they all stink.

Teachers’ unions and other defenders of American public schools excoriated Ms. Rhee and her advocacy group, StudentsFirst, for the indictment of U.S. schools. The rankings focused on state support and promotion of school choice, teacher evaluations and other controversial criteria.

Student performance on standardized tests was not the dominant factor, as evidenced by the fact that Massachusetts, consistently at or near the top of the heap when measured by pupil test scores, got a “D” on the StudentsFirst list.

The majority of states, 28 including Maryland and Virginia, got “D’s,” while 11 were given an “F.” No state received an “A” grade. Only two, Louisiana and Florida, got “B’s.”

Nine states and the District, which Ms. Rhee led from 2007 to 2010, received a “C.”

“Our educators, our kids and our families are forced to operate in a ridiculous bureaucracy,” Ms. Rhee told reporters on Monday morning, explaining one reason why states fared so poorly in her review.

No stranger to controversy, Ms. Rhee surely knew her report would not only get attention but also would provoke swift and vicious reaction.

“Has Michelle Rhee ever seen a public school system she liked?” reads a Monday morning tweet from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). She followed up with another tweet accusing Ms. Rhee’s rankings of focusing entirely on “ideology,” not student performance or the overall quality of a given school system.

California’s deputy superintendent of schools, Richard Zeiger, told the New York Times he considers it a “badge of honor” that his state was given an “F” by Ms. Rhee.

“This is an organization that makes its living by asserting that schools are failing. I would have been surprised if we had got anything else,” he said.

Similar reactions popped up elsewhere.

“I wouldn’t want an ‘A’ on this report card,” David Broderic, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union, told Harrisburg’s Patriot News.

To find teachers unions on the opposite side of an argument from Ms. Rhee hardly is a shock. She’s frequently painted those groups — the AFT and the National Education Association, along with their subsidiaries at the state and local levels — as among the biggest problems in American education.

In fact, the states at the top of her ranking are led or recently have been led by noted union critics. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, which comes in at No. 1 on the list, recently gave a speech in the District in which he said teachers unions are “working hard every day, spending millions of dollars every year, to make sure you never get the opportunity to get your child out of a failing school and into a different school.”

Florida came in at No. 2. Its former governor, Jeb Bush, has also been a harsh critic of unions and, like Ms. Rhee, has tirelessly pushed policies deemed unacceptable by labor groups.

Current Sunshine State Gov. Rick Scott further angered unions by tapping frequent union target Tony Bennett to head the state’s school system.

Mr. Bennett formerly led schools in Indiana ?— which finished No. 3 — but was ousted by voters last November after shepherding through a number of controversial reforms opposed by teachers unions.

For all the opposition to her rankings, Ms. Rhee was also commended by many across the nation for providing a blunt, critical take on the state of U.S. schools.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle lauded the report card, as did several governors. Mr. Jindal and Maine Gov. Paul LePage said the study deserves to be examined closely by policymakers.

Leaders of state chambers of commerce, business councils and other groups declared that the report highlights the great and growing need for serious education reform in the U.S.