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The Arizona Republic.

Arizona tops in charter schools Report ranks state alternatives No. 1
September 20, 2000

Gannett News Service Sept. 20, 2000

WASHINGTON - Arizona tops the list of an education index put together by a conservative foundation ranking states by factors such as availability of charter schools, ease of home schooling and support offered parents with children in private schools.

Arizona, which is running the nation's most ambitious experiment with charter schools, is followed by Minnesota, their birthplace.

The Education Freedom Index, produced by the Manhattan Institute, ranks Hawaii last and West Virginia second-to-last.

The index may be a sign of how politicized education has become.

Four years ago, when President Clinton ran for re-election, Republicans chose narrow, unpopular education positions such as abolishing the Department of Education.

After losing badly among education-minded voters, Republicans spent four years retooling their education positions.

Many of those new themes, such as giving parents more choice in how children are educated, are reflected in this index.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush is holding his own on education issues with Vice President Al Gore. Most of Bush's education platform draws on nuts-and-bolts reforms undertaken in Texas public schools. But if Bush wins, issues such as support for private school parents and home schooling will move from fringe status to center stage.

"I don't say that today's U.S. public school establishment is despotic," said Checker Finn, a former Education Department official now with the Manhattan Institute. "But it's none too fond of education freedom, it doesn't welcome change, and it avoids criticism, both explicit and implied."

The Manhattan Institute report was written by Jay Greene, a researcher active in studying vouchers. Greene is one of several researchers the teachers' unions say has a pro-voucher bias.

Criteria used by Greene in his rankings include: What are a state's charter school options, how available are vouchers, do state regulations make it easy or hard to teach children at home, and how difficult is it for parents to change their kids' schools within a district or neighboring district.

Hawaii came in last, Greene said, because the state has only one school district and lacks a program allowing transfers within that district. Hawaii heavily regulates home schooling, has few charter schools and offers no assistance for private school expenses.

There is a connection between the amount of freedom a state allows and students' test scores in those states, Greene said.

"Put simply, states with more education freedom have higher student achievement," said Greene, referring to scores on SAT college entrance exams and the federal tests called NAEP - National Assessment of Educational Progress.

A one-point rise in the Index translates into a 5.5 percent increase in the number of students scoring proficient in the NAEP, said Greene, and a 24-point increase on the combined SAT verbal and math scores.

Greene also tracked the connection between family income and test scores, reaching this conclusion: "To achieve the same benefit as a one-point gain in the (index), state policymakers would have to find a way to increase average household income by $19,000, which is simply not feasible."

A spokesman at the American Federation of Teachers dismissed the idea of a connection between the index and test scores.

"I think it is a silly idea," Jamie Horwitz said. "There is no causal link between scores in Minnesota and this collection of legislative ideas.

"Minnesota has always had a history of producing high marks long before it experimented with charters and (public school) choice."

©2000 The Arizona Republic



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