News: Quick Takes

N.C. ranks ninth on school choice index but has much room for improvement

Proponents of school choice in North Carolina have reason to cheer the state’s ninth-place ranking in the Center for Education Reform Parent Power! Index for 2017.

But they may want to soften their applause, as challenges remain in providing even more parents and students with diverse educational opportunities.

“When it comes to the education of their kids, every parent deserves robust opportunities to control the education of their youth, and access to full transparency of information to allow them to be informed consumers,” said Jeanne Allen, founder and chief executive of CER. “Every state should want to score an A on the Parent Power! Index.”

North Carolina ranks higher than the national parent power average, at 73 percent, but is ninth with only a C. The U.S. average PPI score is 63 percent, with 36 percent for school choice and 46 percent for transparency. CER found that only one in three states provide significant charter school opportunities.

CER is a nonprofit school-choice advocacy group promoting more innovative education options for students across the country.

The CER national study ranks the ability of parents to control their child’s educational future on a scale of zero to 100. Included in the study is a review of teacher quality, transparency of school performance data, and digital and online learning opportunities. Florida, Indiana, and Arizona have the highest PPI scores; North Dakota, Nebraska, and Alaska trail far behind.

Plenty of room for improvement in North Carolina remains.

Transparency of school performance data scored 70 percent, for example. While school report cards are easy to find on the Department of Public Instruction website, analyzing the data is far more difficult.

CER praised North Carolina legislators for removing a cap on the number of charter schools and for authorizing more innovative charter schools. But it gave the state a 78 percent for a lack of equitable funding and multiple, independent authorizers. The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board is the lone entity allowed to authorize charter schools, and it prohibits charter school operators from appealing the board’s decisions.

Teacher quality in North Carolina is a mixed bag, says the CER, which gave the state 72 percent. Identifying effective teachers received a B-, and firing ineffective teachers scored an F. Expanding the teacher hiring pool earned a D. Retaining teachers, pension plans, and delivering well-prepared teachers all earned a C.

The PPI indicates North Carolina could vastly expand student access and eligibility for the Virtual Public School. As the CER notes, the N.C. Virtual Public School is the second largest in the country but has limited student access. A cap of 1,500 students for the state’s first virtual charter school prevents it from meeting demand.