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Pa. gets good grades in education reform ranking

by Damon C. Williams
Philadelphia Tribune
January 26, 2013

The Center for Education Reform, a national non-profit tasked with improving public education, has released an encompassing report that grades parental empowerment, solid educational choices, teacher quality and access to digital learning, among other factors. That Pennsylvania ranks in the top ten of all states can be viewed as proof educational reforms in the commonwealth are beginning to take hold.

According to the annual findings released in the Parent Power Index, Pennsylvania trails Indiana, which ranks first; Florida; Ohio; Arizona; Washington, D.C.; Louisiana and Minnesota. Wisconsin and Utah round out the top ten.

The PPI is an interactive, accessible online tool that collects and itemizes data critical to judging the gains and deficiencies in a parent’s control of their child’s education. The index is designed to provide in-depth information to not only parents, but to stakeholders, politicians and education policymakers as well.

“All across America, parents are demanding more power over their children’s education, but the task of sorting through all the information out there is daunting,” said Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen. “There are a variety of resources available to evaluate how students are achieving, but there is widespread disagreement about what constitutes sound education reform policy.

As the mother of college students, I liken the PPI to a cumulative GPA, which is a composite of grades from varying professors,” Allen continued. “In this case, these professors are among the nation’s leading authorities and critical evaluators of education policy.”

Each state is graded on five broad categories: school choice, charter schools, online learning, teacher quality and transparency, and the findings related to Pennsylvania are interesting.

For example, the state received points for having a pro-education reform governor in Tom Corbett, but suffered due to limitations in the so-called parent-trigger law, which allows parents to force a change of district leadership if said district doesn’t meet the parents’ standards. The state also received credit for the number and quality of charter schools, for providing school choice and supporting a performance-based pay structure.

Pennsylvania’s overall PPI grade is 74.5 percent.

“A high number of digital learning options prevail alongside charter schools that serve a significant number of students throughout the state. The state affords parents many good information sources and allows them to vote for their elected school boards in traditionally-timed elections,” read PPI’s Pennsylvania summary. “The state’s teacher quality measures are weak, however, and more and better options across all schooling structures are needed and much in demand.”

Pennsylvania was shown to be slightly deficient is several areas, however. On the matter of school choice, the index found that Pennsylvania has two private school choice programs, and that the commonwealth does have a charter school law. Pennsylvania enables public virtual schooling, but needs to address its limited open enrollment policies.

In terms of transparency, the index singled out the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission for their openness; however, improvements must be made in terms of educating parents about other, less traditional modes of education.

“Pennsylvania’s department of education website is parent-friendly and school report cards are accessible. It is next to impossible, however, to find information on charter or cyber school options. Generally, elections for the 501 local school boards in Pennsylvania are held in November of odd-numbered years,” read the index. “Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is governed by an appointed panel. Harrisburg and Chester Upland are governed by state appointed boards of control, although their local boards still operate with limited authority.”

The index also shows that Pennsylvania graduates 80.5 percent of its high school students, while the average SAT score is 1473 and the average ACT score is 22.3; of import, Pennsylvania spends an average of $12,418 on per-pupil funding.

“The index’s ‘Top Ten’ prove that when parents have access to options and good information, all children can succeed,” Allen said. “Lawmakers need to look to these exemplars and the policies that have afforded parents greater power elsewhere and act as fast to bring real education reform to their respective states.

“Parents and voters have declared that mediocrity is no longer acceptable,” Allen added, “and our elected officials have a mandate to fix out educational and economic problems for good.”