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'Parent Power Index' Puts Familiar States in Top Policy Spots

The Center for Education Reform, a group with a relatively long tenure advocating for charters, vouchers, and test-based teacher evaluations, has released its state rankings on its "Parent Power Index." The center classifies such power as when parents have "access to quality educational options and are provided with good information to make smart decisions about their children's education." No. 1 on the index is Indiana, which scores an 87 out of 100.

Who else gave Indiana top marks among states for its education policy in 2013? The American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC gave the state a 3.49 GPA in its latest "Report Card on American Education" (just .01 points short of an A-, if you want to be technical) and, perhaps more importantly, has model legislation that seeks to replicate key portions of Indiana's major education policy changes, including vouchers and changes to teacher evaluations. And who else ranked the Hoosier State very highly on education policy, if not quite at the top? Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst advocacy group, which ranked the state third overall. Other states ranked in the top six by all three groups were Florida and Louisiana. Arizona was ranked no lower than eighth among the triumvirate, while Ohio did no worse than 10th.

Elements of "parent power" championed by the Center for Education Reform include access to online learning and transparency about teacher and school information, in addition to the "charter and choice" elements. The center puts its opinion in colloquial, simple fashion: "Indiana has been called the 'reformiest' state for good reason."

Each group differs in the methodology it creates for the rankings. But there are undeniable similarities between the lists near the top. It's also worth pondering whether groups and individuals like these pushing for major policy changes can sustain the same recent rate of change, given how the 2010 gubernatorial elections aided some of their efforts. I've heard some sentiment from the school choice community that 2013 isn't shaping up to be a banner year like 2011 and 2012 were, although of course 2014 could turn out to be a great year for choice advocates once again.

While the lists certainly aren't carbon copies (look at Maryland's disparate places on these rankings), could these report cards and scorecards start to calcify, especially near the top? If they do, does their impact decline? What are the realistic prospects for states in the middle of or at the bottom of these lists, particularly those with political cultures lukewarm or hostile to policies these groups like, to really move up the rankings? And speaking of the Old Line State, it would only be fair to say here that Maryland has occupied the top spot on the Quality Counts report from Education Week for five straight years.

A major shakeup in the ALEC, CER and StudentsFirst lists would certainly create more buzz at places like this blog. But as you can see from the right side of the web page for the StudentsFirsts report card, a key objective of its list is to spur people to "email your legislator" and similar actions. Of course, the reaction to such lists from people with very different education policy perspectives can be summed up in this tweet today: "(And) by 'parent power,' you mean corporate support and imposition in the guise of helping parents."

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