- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

America is again fighting an Evil Empire. The despots of today are those that would deprive our nation of its educational liberty. Accordingly, Jay P. Greene of The Manhattan Institute recently created The Education Freedom Index (EFI) to measure the degree to which each state exhibits freedom in its education policies.

Inspired by Freedom House's worldwide surveys of political liberty during the Cold War, Mr. Greene's state-by-state analysis is not simply a survey of state efforts to promote school vouchers. Instead, he broadly defines how state policies may exhibit educational freedom, including five distinct criteria in his index: charter school options, availability of vouchers, ability to home-school, ability to relocate to choose a different public school district, and ability to choose a new public school district without changing residence. What emerges from applying these criteria is a scoring and ranking of each state and a resulting classification as "free," "partly free" or "not free."

Mr. Greene's rankings reveal a diversity among states with similar scores. For example, high-ranking states are found in the West (Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado), the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin), the South (Texas), the Mid-Atlantic (Delaware), and the Northeast (Connecticut and New Jersey). Perhaps more surprising, closely ranked states also exhibit political diversity. Among the 10 highest-ranking states, three voted for the last three Democratic presidential candidates, while three others voted for two of the last three Republican nominees (excluding the 2000 election). From this broad diversity, Mr. Greene concludes that espousing policies of educational freedom is at the discretion of state governments and is not predetermined by any inherent characteristics.

Yet Mr. Greene proceeds one step further in the final section of his study. He finds that educational freedom is strongly linked to student achievement. After controlling for other factors, Mr. Greene finds that a one point rise in EFI leads to a 24 point increase in SAT verbal and math scores. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that same one point rise would increase the percentage of students performing proficiently by 5.5 percent. Achieving the same result financially would require increasing household incomes by $19,000.

Chester E. Finn notes in his foreword to Mr. Greene's report that just as tyrants, oligarchs and despots didn't like the Freedom House map, not all policy-makers will welcome this index. Perhaps with an increased awareness of educational freedom, those trapped behind the wall of public education will take it upon themselves to tear down the educational Iron Curtain.

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