Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

October 12, 2017

Survey says: How Americans feel about public schools and school choice

Between May and September, four organizations released the results from their surveys asking Americans about K-12 education policies.  The four surveys by NORC/AP, Education Next, PDK and the American Teachers Federation (AFT), polled different participants but all asked questions about people’s opinion of public education, charter schools and vouchers.  The NORC/AP and PDK poll gathered their data from a random sample of American households.  The AFT and Education Next surveys both gathered data from parents and the Education Next also included teachers.  The data from the surveys agreed on certain issues, like the quality of public schools, but the questions about vouchers and charter schools showed people’s difference of opinion and lack of information about these issues.  This is an attempt to point out areas where these surveys agreed and disagreed to shed light on the public’s broader opinion about public schools and education policies. However, one overarching theme emerges—Americans, overall, like the idea of choice but still look to their local neighborhood schools as their first choice.

Grading Public Schools

PollChart1

All four polls indicate that Americans have conflicting opinions about public schools.  They report having a low opinion of public schools when asked about their overall quality from a national level, but then highly rate their local public schools.  These results have been consistent since the 1970s in the PDK poll.

PollChart2

 

Another consistent finding is the particularly high rating public school parents give for the public school where their child attends.  In 2017, 15% of public school parents gave their local public school an “A” in the PDK poll, which is the highest percentage in 20 years.  This year, at least 65% of parents in all four surveys praised their neighborhood public schools by giving them an “A” or “B” rating, or noting that they are of good or excellent quality.  The Education Next poll was the only one that collected responses specifically from teachers.  Teachers opinions mirrored the parents rating in the poll, showing a higher opinion for local public schools than public schools on a national level.  Overall, people are satisfied with their local public schools and the people who are most involved in public schools, parents and teachers, have the highest opinion of these institutions.

Charter Schools

PollChart3

Public opinion about charter schools is less definitive between the three different polls, PDK, NORC/AP and AFT, but basically shows how support shifts when questions are asked differently.  According to the NORC/AP survey, more participants support opening more charter schools compared to those who are opposed.  The Education Next and AFT polls show a different side of the argument.  The Education Next poll doesn’t show a big difference between the number of people that are for and against setting up more charter schools.  But the gap between support and opposition widens slightly when parents and teachers are polled.  Forty percent of teachers support opening more charter schools, but 51% oppose the idea. Teachers represent the biggest gap on this question and the only group that reported more opposing than supporting charter schools.

The data from the AFT survey paint a much different picture, and is likely a result of the wording. Unlike EdNext and AP/NORC who both asked about support for charter schools generally, AFT asked about respondents in terms of spending. AFT found that only 32% of public school parents approve of reducing spending on regular public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools.

The questions in the Education Next and NORC/AP poll also include a brief definition of a charter school, whereas the AFT question does not. Education Next and NORC/AP indicate that many people still do not have a strong opinion one way or the other on charter schools, with over a quarter of respondents neither supporting nor opposing the formation of charter schools.  This suggests that policymakers need to do a better job of educating the public about charter schools and their policy implications.

Vouchers

PollChart4.4

PollChart4.5

The polling data also show discrepancies on the issue of vouchers, which again is a likely result of different wording.  The Education Next poll showed a higher percentage of overall respondents supporting vouchers for all students, as well as, for low-income families specifically.  More parents in this survey also supported vouchers for all students and for low-income students.  Teachers were the only group with a majority opposing both types of vouchers.  The NORC/AP survey also showed greater support than opposition towards vouchers.  This was true for survey participants overall as well as for African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians.  However, the results from the AFT and PDK poll show the opposite when the question involves spending money on either public schools or vouchers. Eighty-six percent of public school parents in the AFT poll agreed that a higher priority should be paid towards investing in neighborhood public schools over vouchers. In PDK, 52% opposed using public dollars to help children attend private school. When given an option of using funds only on public schools or using some to help students attend any school “public, private or religious,” 61% of respondents wanted all the dollars to stay in the public domain.

Similar to the questions about charter schools, the wording of the questions about vouchers can have an effect on the responses.  In the surveys that had more support for vouchers, all of the questions mentioned the word “choice”, which suggests that people support the idea of choice for choice sake.  However, the questions in the polls that had a majority opposed clearly indicated the separation between spending money on public schools or vouchers.

It is clear that people like their public schools.  This is not new.  The majority of people have ranked their public schools highly for more than three decades.  The results around different types of school choice are less one-sided, but even those numbers may be misleading by the public’s lack of awareness about the implications of policies concerning choice.  For example, the NORC/AP survey data continued to show more people supporting charter schools and voucher programs, but that may not be the case.  The researchers report that the majority of parents want to keep their children in school in their own neighborhood with 67% of Americans saying “preference should be given to children living in a school’s catchment, with children living outside that area given a lower chance of admission.”  This shows that most people still rely on their neighborhood public schools and want them to be of high quality.

 

 

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,School Choice — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 2:33 pm





August 21, 2014

Common core support drops, local control rules, and other public opinion trends

Back to school season means it’s also time for the yearly ritual of gauging American attitudes about their public schools. Two major surveys released this week once again show that the public says its local schools are great even though they think U.S. schools overall are in the tank (a mathematical impossibility, by the way). The surveys also highlight some inconsistencies in public thinking as well as widespread acceptance of misinformation, particularly regarding the common core. So let’s start there.

First, what a difference a year makes! The 46th annual PDK/Gallup poll registered a big increase in public awareness about the Common Core State Standards between 2013 and 2014. Last year, only 38 percent said they had heard of them. This year, awareness has more than doubled to 81 percent. But that wasn’t the only shift. Of those who knew about the Common Core in 2013 a majority liked them, but that pendulum swung, too. Now according to PDK, only 33 percent support the new standards while a full 60 percent are opposed.

A new poll from Education Next shows the same downward trend in public support for Common Core as PDK, although EN shows that a majority are still favorable: 53 percent of the public supported them in 2014 compared to 65 percent the year before. EN teased out attitudes by party affiliation and found that Democrats were more far more likely to support Common Core than Republicans — 65 to 43 percent, respectively. Still, even among Republicans, support is significantly higher than PDK reported.

EN also conducted a small randomized experiment. They asked the same question about Common Core standards to one half of the survey pool, except they eliminated the words “Common Core” in the brackets below:

As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use [the Common Core, which are] standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of these [the Common Core] standards in your state?

Now it gets interesting. When the words “Common Core” are eliminated, public support rises from 53 to 68 percent. Moreover, Republicans approved of the non-Common Core statement at the same rate as Democrats. The conflicting poll results could suggest that the Common Core critics are winning the media war. As EN puts it, the words themselves may have become “toxic.” As further evidence, the poll found that the majority of the public believed statements about the Common Core that were not true, such as the federal government requires states to use the Common Core. Yet these beliefs have entered into the information stream and are affecting public attitudes.

Of course, it’s also possible that we are seeing a sea change in attitudes. The EN survey raises an issue that should be of major concern: teacher support for the Common Core declined the most. In 2013, a full three-quarters of the teachers polled were in favor of the Common Core. In just one year their support plummeted to slightly less than half (46 percent). One has to wonder if teachers are expressing their frustration with inadequate implementation support. If this is the case, state and district policymakers should pay close attention.

On other topics, the public continues to view public schooling as a mostly local concern, according to PDK. The majority of the public — 56 percent — say local school boards should have the “greatest influence in deciding what is taught in public schools,” followed by 28 percent who say the state should, and only 15 percent who say the federal government should. In addition, to know public schools is to love them. Consistent with results of the last 20 years, the public gives public schools nationally poor grades, but grade their local schools highly. In 2014, 50 percent of the public and 67 percent of public school parents gave their local schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ compared to 17 percent who gave the nation’s schools high grades. However, this represents a slight drop from 2013 overall.

Both PDK and EN found that the public continues to like the idea of charter schools. But the polls conflict over voucher support. PDK reported that nearly two-thirds of the public opposed vouchers, while EN showed that about half support vouchers for students in “failing public schools” and even for “universal vouchers.” Surprisingly, only a third told EN they would support vouchers for low-income families.

As always, polls can be useful in understanding what the public is thinking. But this year’s polling seems to further cast a light on winners and losers in communicating their messages. — Patte Barth







RSS Feed