01/08/2013 10:40 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

StudentsFirst Report Cards Fail to Mention Poverty, Crime

StudentsFirst issued a report yesterday, revealing how my state of Missouri and the rest of the nation fared in the all-important job of teaching our nation's children.

Sad to say, Missouri was not at the top of the list. We finished 34th, receiving a "D" from the group, which is fronted by education "reformer" Michelle Rhee.

Before examining the report cards in-depth, I thought that perhaps the Show-Me State's mediocre ranking came because of the high amount of poverty we have in the state.

After all, it is hard for children who are dealing with poverty or physical, emotional and sexual abuse, living in unsafe areas -- in other words, those for whom day-to-day survival is a more pressing concern -- to concentrate on learning.

However, not one word is included in the report about poverty. Apparently, the special interests to whom StudentsFirst is beholden do not consider poverty to be a factor in determining the effectiveness of a child's education.

Perhaps, I thought, the problem is lack of funding leading to students having to deal with outdated, or non-existent technology, or having to be in classrooms with 30 or more students. We have all heard the horror stories of textbooks that were written before the Berlin Wall collapsed and science books that treat DNA as three letters of the alphabet.

I did not see the word "technology" mentioned once in the Missouri report, and class size is only referenced as not being meaningful in determining the quality of a child's education.

Not surprisingly, considering the source, much of what is included in the report card are endorsements of the "reforms" that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst have been pushing in state legislatures across the country, some of which have nothing to do with education.

The report addresses teacher pensions and suggests that they be changed to 401K plans. What in the world does that have to do with educational quality? Could that be a consideration because the billionaires who are backing StudentsFirst do not want anything to do with paying taxes for public schools, much less for the retirement of those who teach in them?

The report also recommends the following:

  • Teachers should not have a say in their evaluation systems. Bargaining should be eliminated.
  • Let mayors take over failing schools.
  • Provide public money for students to attend private schools. (To make it more palatable, the report references "scholarships" and never uses the word "vouchers.")
  • Do more to open the teaching ranks to people who do not have education degrees.
  • Base pay and employment decision on the results of standardized tests.
  • Eliminate tenure for teachers.

It is hard to please StudentsFirst. No state received an "A" grade or an "A-" or a "B+" or a "B." And only two, Florida and Louisiana, were privileged enough to earn "B-" grades. Twelve states failed.

The report was issued just in time for the beginning of the legislative session in most states, including Missouri, and in our state, Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has already declared that education will be a top priority.

This is the same legislator who received a $100,000 campaign contribution (Missouri has no contribution limits) from retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield, whose beliefs are right in line with those espoused by StudentsFirst.

The Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, received $50,000 from Sinquefield and $2,000 from Students First.

Jones and Dempsey are the two men who will decide which bills are given the fast track and which ones will never see the light of day.

Legislators will undoubtedly be receiving many free meals, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and other gifts from the nine StudentsFirst lobbyists, including Ms. Rhee, who are registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission. (Missouri also places no limits on the amount of gifts legislators can receive from lobbyists.)

Other states have already fast-tracked the legislation being pushed by StudentsFirst.

Meanwhile, the changes that could truly benefit the children of this nation -- reducing poverty, making communities safer, and providing for their mental and physical health, seem likely to never be addressed and will likely grow worse with the constant cries for cutting programs.

And the low scores will continue to pile up on these meaningless StudentsFirst report cards, with classroom teachers continuing to bear the brunt of a manufactured educational crisis.

This does not appear to be an organization that puts StudentsFirst in anything except its name.