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Education reform group ranks SD near bottom

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Joel Ebert, Capital Journal

A new education report card released by a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes charter schools has South Dakota ranking second to last in the nation. But critics of the organization say the state has nothing to fear and that South Dakotans should actually be proud of the poor score.

The Center for Education Reform released rankings on Wednesday which pegged the Rushmore state second-to-last in the country on what the organization is calling an “education report,” despite the fact that the methodology used did not include student test scores, graduation rates or other academic measures.

For the fifth year, the CER released the Parent Power Index, which measures the ability of a parent to exercise choices regarding their children’s schooling, according to the nonprofit’s website.

The power index ranks every state in the nation and gives points for different categories. Scores are generated by several factors, including whether or not a state has charter schools and quality teachers, and whether or not the schools in the state provide for online learning. The PPI index also factors in transparency and what CER calls the “parent trigger,” which is based on laws that provide parents and teachers opportunities to turn around failing schools.

Indiana had the highest score in the nation scoring a 90 percent out of 100, while Montana had the lowest. Most states did not score higher than 80 percent. The median score was 67.4 percent.

South Dakota earned a score of 56 percent, which is just behind Nebraska and North Dakota, earning it a ranking of 50 out of 51. The PPI includes the District of Columbia.

Last year, the CER ranked South Dakota 46th in the country and in 2012 it ranked 48th.

“Despite continuous efforts by some legislators, South Dakota is one of just eight states remaining without a charter school law,” the CER said in a news release. “With 36 governor races this November, including in South Dakota, it’s time enacting parent-empowering policies take front and center, especially when only 36 percent of Mount Rushmore State eighth-graders are proficient in reading and 38 percent are proficient in math. America’s future depends on states’ ability to enact good policy to accelerate the pace of education reform and grow new and meaningful choices for parents.”

The academic figures referenced in the news release pertaining to South Dakota were not considered in the PPI rankings.

When asked how the state could improve its rankings, executive vice president for the CER Alison Conseletti Zgainer said, “South Dakota could do anything. They have no charter school law, no private choice or tax credit programs available to families, their virtual learning options are limited.

Conseletti Zgainer said with the exception of parents who send students to private schools, South Dakotans have no options beside the public school to which they are assigned.

Critics of CER – which is partially funded by the Walton Family Foundation, an organization started by the owners of Walmart – say South Dakotans should actually be grateful for poor scoring.

“The people of South Dakota should feel great pride in receiving a low ranking from the Center for Education Reform,” said Rob Boston, communications director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is based in Washington, D.C. “It’s a sign that people there have the innate wisdom to value their public schools.”

Boston said the CER is one of several groups in the United States working to privatize secondary education. The organization mainly promotes voucher plans while also advocating for charter schools, he said.

“The end game for CER and groups like it is to turn public education over to the for-profit sector,” said Boston, who is critical of charter schools. He said that most Americans rely on the public education system, especially in states like South Dakota.

“People living in states with a lot of rural areas and small towns rely on public schools even more because private institutions tend to be few and far between,” he said.

Conseletti Zgainer said charter schools can provide options for improving rural education. Although she did not offer specific details as to how, she said, “States that have a large number of rural students, like North Carolina, do in fact have charter school laws and have charter schools in rural communities.”