StudentsFirst lobbyist testifies in Lansing on same day academic review slams group’s ‘state report card’ on education


An academic review out Wednesday criticizes StudentsFirst for grading state education policies based on ideology and not hard research – the same day former state Rep. Tim Melton, now a lobbyist for the advocacy group, testified before the Michigan House Education Committee and advocated for test-based teacher evaluations.

StudentsFirst, headed by former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat Proposal 2 last November and previously threw money and influence behind legislation stripping teachers of collective bargaining and due process rights (the so-called “tenure reforms” of 2011).

A vocal critic of tenure and supporter of the 2011 “reforms”, Rep. Melton left the Legislature later that year to become a lobbyist for StudentsFirst.

Now, Melton, Rhee and StudentsFirst are trumpeting grading teachers mainly based on their students’ test scores. In January, the group released its “State Policy Report Card,” which gave letter grades to states on their education policies.

But an academic review of the report card released Thursday found it only serves to advance a political agenda, as states were generally rated inadequate for their policies regarding school choice, private vouchers, test-based accountability and centralized control of public schools.

“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,” wrote the reviewers, Sherman Dorn, professor of education at the University of South Florida, and Ken Libby, doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In a press release blasting today’s testimony and the report, Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), the minority vice chair of the House Education Committee, said, “This is just the latest instance of a pro-charter, pro-voucher organization trying to influence lawmakers under the guise of helping our kids. In fact, they just continue to advocate for the corporatization of Michigan schools. The irony is that StudentsFirst, with its backward policies, actually puts students last."

StudentsFirst doesn’t disclose its donors, so it’s not clear whether the supporters of StudentsFirst’s work stand to benefit financially from the advancement of these narrow policy goals.

On top of that, StudentsFirst didn’t even follow its own criteria for categories in the report card, the review found. California, for example, received a zero for School Letter Grading, despite the fact all states receiving Title I funding are required to issue school report cards.

The tenure policies in Oregon and Florida also were inaccurately described in the report card.

The full review is available at