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Vermont among lowest-scoring states in parent input on schools

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Derek Carson, Bennington Banner

BENNINGTON — Vermont recently ranked 45th out of the 51 states and Washington D.C. in a report designed to rank states based on how much power parents have over their childrens’ education.

The web-based report card, called the Parent Power Index, was produced by the Center for Education Reform. The higher a state’s grade, the more parents are afforded access and information about learning options that can deliver successful educational outcomes for their children, said the organization in a press release. Vermont’s grade was 59 percent, above only Kentucky, Alabama, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana. This is an improvement from the 2013 report, which had Vermont ranked as 47th, behind South Dakota and Alabama. The median score was 67.4 percent.

The scores are generated from how the states fare in the categories of School Choice, Charter Schools, Online Learning, and Teacher Quality. The states were given a grade on the traditional GPA scale of 0-4 for each category, which was then averaged and converted into a percentage. Vermont scored 0 for Charter Schools, 0.7 for School Choice, 0.7 for Teacher Quality, and 0 for Online Learning, good for an average of 0.35. The state earned bonus points for its good record of school data transparency.

“Vermont still remains one of the few states that have yet to provide meaningful school choices for parents,” reads the report, which can be viewed online at, “although the nation’s oldest voucher system still gives towns without a high school the authority to allow students to attend private schools. High marks for transparency, but low marks for teacher quality efforts out this high elevation state near rock bottom.”

The explanation of the state’s School Choice score reads, “Similar to Maine’s town-tuitioning program, small towns in Vermont that do not have high schools may send students to schools in other towns at the home district’s expense. A student may also go to a private school, in which case the student receives a voucher to be applied toward tuition charges. The state permits parents some choices among traditional public schools, but the opportunities and rules often vary by district.” Vermont received the grade of 0 under the Charter Schools category as it is one of eight states to not have a charter school law.

The report also called for Vermont to increase the online-learning opportunities available to students, including supplemental online courses, and a full-time online courseload. For Teacher Quality, the explanation reads, “There is no state policy regarding the content of teacher evaluations, which are not annually required. A state task force has created guidelines of evaluations including using student growth measures, but implementation is not mandatory. Neither tenure decisions nor licensure advancement and renewal are based on teacher effectiveness. Tenure is given after a two-year probationary period. Ineffective performance is not grounds for dismissal. Vermont’s state code does not specifically mention automatic pay raises based on advanced degrees, or whether [schools] can implement performance pay.”

“While it’s true some states have made progress, it’s not nearly enough to meet demand,” said CER president Kara Kerwin, “Simply put, we need more learning options available to more families, and we need them fast. Out of the over 54 million K-12 students nationwide, only an estimated 6.5 million students are taking advantage of charter schools, school choice programs such as vouchers or tax credits, and digital or blended learning models. With the United States school-aged population expected to grow at unprecedented rates in the next five years, how will our school system be able to meet demand when we already have wait lists for charter schools and oversubscribed scholarship programs?”

“With 36 governor races this November, including in Vermont, it’s time enacting parent-empowering policies take front and center, especially when only 45 percent of Green Mountain State eighth graders are proficient in reading and 47 percent are proficient in math,” said Kerwin, “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.”