Multiple measures were used to arrive at a final PEHI score. Some of these are arguably inexact; for instance, economic measures like teacher starting pay depend at least in part on context (are you trying to live on that salary in Bozeman or Manhattan). Lacking the resources to implement a sophisticated contextualizing model, we assigned scores based on our own less sophisticated approximating model.
Some may question the presence of so many teacher-related factors in the index, but we argue that a state that values public education also values the people who work there. Teachers must be able to make a livable wage, advocate for students without fear of losing their job, and do their work with the necessary supplies and supports; a failure to provide those things is an attack on public education. At no point were political party affiliations considered; while the GOP has long been openly hostile to public education, Democrats are perfectly capable of being public school opponents as well.
The one item conspicuously missing here is pandemic response. While states have generally failed to take major steps to protect teachers and students in schools, the situation shifts so rapidly that the team gave up trying to quantify it other than to observe that no state seems to be doing particularly well, and therefor any scoring was unlikely to shift the rankings.
The basic methodology is the Institute team considered the factors, gave states scores, and then added the scores up. But we used numbers, so clearly the index is scientific and unbiased.
Deciding how to weight the various factors was a challenge. In some states (e.g. New York) a single city or group of cities may dominate education news in ways that don’t apply to the entire state. There’s also the issue of general national-level hostility that operates like a background hum behind all of this, meaning that folks in Montana may pick up negative vibes from Maine; of course, everyone picks up the negative vibes from Florida. Here are the factors used in determining the PEHI.
Betsy DeVos’s organization, the American Federation for Children releases an annual guidebook, assessing the various states’ voucher and voucher style programs. This is a group dedicated to dismantling public education and replacing it with private vendors. The more highly rated a state is on this report, higher the PEHI score.
Teacher Pay Increase
Has your state been keeping up with teacher pay levels, or are they lagging behind? Past performance is a guide to future results. This trait considered how much teacher pay has increased in the state since 1970, per USA Facts website.
Teacher Starting Pay
Can a beginning teacher make a living here? States are scored based on which quintile they ranked in per NEA data.
Spending Per Student
How much money is actually being spent on education, per student, based on NEA data. A state that truly supports public education puts its money where its mouth is, and does not, for instance, have to be dragged into court in order to be forced to provide the funding that its own state constitution calls for.
Charter School Enrollment
By percent, how many of the state’s students are now in charter schools (a system that is not public and which feeds on the public school system). How successful have disruptors been at getting students out of public schools. Disruptors will say, “Well, that’s the point.” We agree.
While they are a useful variant for a certain population of students, privately owned and operated cybers have a huge impact on public school budgets with little benefit to education of students. Only some states allow them to proliferate, which benefits few people beyond the business owners.
Charter School Oversight
How much oversight are charters subject to? Are they under the same rules as public schools or living in the land of Do As You Please? Do they have the same legal obligations as public schools, or are they able to undercut public schools by playing with a different set of rules?
Charter Schools Operating
How many charter schools are actually operating in the state? How effectively have they spread to supplanting and replacing public education?
Voucher Shenanigans 2021
Did the state take advantage of pandemic issues to either introduce or expand vouchers and thereby further drain funding from public schools? Also taking into account that almost all voucher programs involve rules explicitly forbidding the state to exercise oversight of the schools themselves.
Critical Race Theory Panic
Did the state pass gag rules, mostly copy-and-pasted from the popular “no divisive topics” rules? Are one of the many astro-turf or astro-gasoline groups agitating for further clamping down on evil indoctrinating teachers? Has the state forbidden teachers to discuss “divisive concepts” in their classroom or make any students “uncomfortable”? This is not how to foster education.
Right To Work
Has the state eliminated basic due process and job protection rules?
Do elected officials regularly trash talk public education? Are education department leaders not actual educators? Are you in a state like Florida, where all officials are lined up to attack public education, or a state like Pennsylvania with a pro-education governor and an anti-public ed legislature? Bonus if your state is like Idaho, with elected officials actually conducting witch hunts to find naughty teachers.
University of Arkansas Ranking
The University of Arkansas creates an Education Freedom Index. It’s not exactly reliable for their purposes, but for our purposes it provides a good view of which state education disruptors consider the best in opposing public ed.
Another way to look at the question of whether or not teachers have to live in fear of losing their jobs for any reason at all. Do teachers have any guarantees of due process?
Do teachers unions have the ability to advocate for their members, or has their ability to do so been ended by state fiat? This guarantees that public schools will never be competitive in hiring the best people available, nor will those people be empowered to advocate for better educational atmosphere.
Does the state use some sort of simplified letter grading to evaluate schools? This is a silly tool made to appeal to people who think schools should be businesses competing in a free (-ish) market and not institutions providing a public good to all students and taxpayers.