Parent-Driven Education Gains Ground in States

Published March 6, 2013

Ten states rank a cut above the rest in offering parents extensive opportunities to control their children’s education, according to the 2013 Parent Power Index from the Center for Education Reform.

Indiana ousted formerly first-ranked Florida for the top seat. Florida ranked second, followed by Ohio, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Utah.

“Indiana surpassed Florida because they looked at Florida, saw their lessons, [and] tried to surpass them and do more,” said Kara Kerwin, a Center for Education Reform (CER) vice president.

Empowering parents increases student achievement, the center also found.

One Index to Rule Them All
A myriad of school reform organizations have taken to ranking states according to what policies they prefer.

“As more and more reports are out there it’s really hard for parents to understand what it all means,” Kerwin said. “We decided to take everything we’ve been looking at for all these years and put it into one simple and user-friendly index.”

The Parent Power Index (PPI) measures states five ways: school choice, charter schools, online learning, teacher quality, and transparency. It also provides summaries of state education laws and quick links to often-requested state sites, positioning itself as a parent-empowerment tool.

“We think that [the index] is asking all the right questions,” said William Mattox, a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute in Florida. “In the larger school choice movement, we want to see competition on all sorts of levels. …so that everyone is seeking to improve their quality and give students the kind of education they deserve.”

Recognizing, Serving Parents
The index recognizes the role of parents in selecting schools, not only being able to choose their own schools and escaping failure but to reinvent and restructure the schools that are in their community,” said education analyst RiShawn Biddle.

He recommended that future indexes measure Parent Trigger laws’ effectiveness, state teacher pension debt, and school choice for under-noticed groups such as Native Americans.

CER researchers and interns tested the user-friendliness of websites nationwide, rating websites on ease of navigation and intuitive design. Parents frequently ask to have easy-to-use education websites, said Virginia Walden Ford, a longtime parent activist and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Easy, quick access to information is key to empowering parents, she said.

“So many of those websites are so difficult to navigate, taking hours and hours to find one thing, and that discourages parents from getting involved and getting information,” Ford said.

Top States
This second publication of the index indicates pro-parent state policies have increased markedly. The index uses National Council for Teacher Quality rankings on teacher quality and Digital Learning Now metrics for online education.

Indiana gained points for improving its charter school law, a statewide voucher program for thousands of children, and strong online learning policy. Florida holds a bevy of charter schools and voucher programs, which have helped boost student achievement, especially for minorities, research has shown. Its user-friendly websites and high ranking for online learning opportunities also contributed to a high score. The index cited the lack of a Parent Trigger law—which allows parents to require one of several reforms at their children’s failing school—as a drawback.

“We are pleased that Florida ranks high in the rankings, but also pleased that they acknowledged that there is room for additional growth on our part,” Mattox said. “Dropping from one to two says we need to raise our game.”

Everyone Can Improve
Ohio ranked third, partly due to a recently passed Parent Trigger law. The state boasts hundreds of quality charter schools, above-average teacher quality, and extensive online opportunities.

No. 1 Indiana received a score of 84 percent out of 100, as even great states can improve, Kerwin said. Pennsylvania has some of the largest virtual schools in the country, but recent legislation to cut them will likely reduce family choices and be reflected in the next ranking, she said.

“Parents are very, very responsive to whatever information they can get, they’re hungry for it,” Ford said. “It makes for such a greater, more-informed citizen.”


Learn more:
Parent Power Index, Center for Education Reform:

Image by Moore Memorial Public Library.