Tag: Education Next

How Transparent Is Your State’s Department of Education?

When a business applies for a loan, the bank needs to know the business’s operating expenses and its overhead to make an informed decision about whether to grant the loan. A business that acquired a loan while understating or hiding some categories of its expenses would be in serious trouble. However, the government seems to operate by a different set of rules.

A new report from the Cato Institute, “Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?“ finds that state departments of education routinely understate the cost of public schools and often fail to report key spending categories. Meanwhile, a Harvard survey finds that the public thinks that public schools cost half as much as they really do. Are state education departments contributing to the public’s vast underestimation of the true cost of public education?

Find out more at Education Next.

Spinning Core

I don’t know if it is intentionally being done to promote the Common Core national curriculum standards, or they are honest but failed efforts to objectively describe what the Core is, but recent polling on the Core has been heavily slanted to get pro-Core responses.

Case in point, the newest Education Next public opinion poll, which in the past has offered terrific efforts to compensate for wording in other polls seemingly designed to elicit negative results against school choice. But on Common Core? Just read the question for yourself (#32 on the questionnaire):

As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?

First and foremost, that “all states are currently deciding” whether or not to adopt the Core is just incorrect. Some states are contemplating leaving the Common Core, but almost all states decided they would adopt in 2010. Many, of course, did so in a rush to get federal Race to the Top money. Indeed, federal coercion–and the flash adoption it spurred–are two of the biggest objections to the Core, and this question acts like those hugely controversial things simply never happened.

Second, how many people, knowing little else about the Core, are going to oppose something that generically will hold “schools accountable for their performance?” Probably not many. And the fact is the Core does not hold anyone accountable for performance. That would be the role of tests coupled with sanctions, not the Core itself. Core supporters love to bash opponents for attributing to the Core things that do not directly come from it–data mining, squeezing out literature–but seem to have no trouble wrongly attributing positive things directly to it.

It’s no wonder the Education Next pollsters found big support for the Core, but faster rising opposition: Much support likely comes from respondents only knowing what the pollsters tell them, while opposition is almost certainly coming primarily from people who over the last year have become aware of the reality of Core, and don’t like it.

Just as bad as the Education Next poll is the AP-NORC “National Education Survey” that came out a few days ago, though it does furnish one very useful piece of information: more than half of respondents knew “little” or “nothing” about the Core, showing how influential a leading question could be. Unfortunately, then they provided such a question (Q30), saying that “the objective of the Common Core is to provide consistent, clear standards across all states for students in grades K-12.” Who, knowing little to nothing about the Common Core, is going to oppose “consistent, clear standards?” That there is big debate about how consistent and clear they are is in no way indicated in the question, and, not surprisingly, it gets a plurality to say they think the Core will “improve the quality of education.” Perhaps the amazing thing is that it didn’t get a majority to say that.

In the end, whether national standards are a good or bad policy doesn’t have a lot to do with public opinion polls. But wouldn’t it be nice if the polls weren’t obviously slanted toward pro-Core outcomes?

Education Tax Credits More Popular Than Vouchers & Charters

As Neal wrote about earlier, Education Next has released their new poll, and there are some interesting results.

Surprisingly, the authors buried the lede in their writeup; education tax credits consistently have more support and less opposition than any other choice policy.

This year, donation tax credits pulled in a 29-point margin of support (that’s total favor minus total oppose). In contrast, charter schools had a 25-point margin of support.

The authors added a new, less neutral voucher question that boosted the margin of support to 20 points. They couched the policy in terms of “wider choice” for kids in public schools, and the implication was that it was universal. All three of these additional considerations tend to have a positive impact on support for choice policies.

The standard low-income voucher question showed a big jump this year from a -12 in 2010 to a 1-point margin of support. The last time Education Next asked a low-income tax credit question, it garnered a 19-point margin of support.

Last year, tax credits had a 28-point margin of support (that’s total favor minus total oppose). In contrast, charter schools had a 22-point margin of support and vouchers for low-income kids went -12 points (more respondents opposed).

Public opinion is consistently and strongly in favor of education tax credits over vouchers and even charter schools. And thankfully, they’re a much better policy as well.

Public Right on Choice, Wrong on Standards, But Always Well Intentioned

Today the good folks at the journal Education Next released their annual survey of education opinion. What follows is a quick summary of many of the things the pollsters found, followed by a little commentary about the national-standards results.  (Adam Schaeffer, I have it on good authority, will be flogging the tax credit and voucher findings in an upcoming post.) Bottom line: The public usually has the right inclinations, but gets some answers wrong as a result.

One note: As is always the case with polls – but I won’t go into great detail with Education Next’s questions – remember that question wording can have a sizable impact on results.

So what did Education Next find?

  • Almost everybody reports paying at least some attention to education issues
  • 79 percent of Americans would grade the nation’s public schools no better than a “C”
  • 54 percent of Americans, and 43 percent of parents, would grade their communities’ public schools no better than a “C”
  • Even when told how much their district spends per pupil, 46 percent of respondents think funding should increase. But that’s down from 59 percent when the current expenditure isn’t given
  • Pluralities of Americans favor charter schooling and government-funded private-school choice (without mention of the sometimes toxic word “voucher”), and a close majority supports tax-credit-based choice   
  • A huge majority, even after having been given the average teacher salary, thinks teachers should get paid more or about the same as they currently do
  • A plurality thinks teachers should pay 20 percent of the cost of their health-care and pension benefits
  • Large pluralities – and for one question a majority – support judging and rewarding teachers based on performance, as well as easing credentialing and tenure rules
  • The public is about evenly split on whether teachers’ unions are good or bad for their districts
  • Big majorities support federal testing demands (without mention of the often-toxic No Child Left Behind Act) as well as states adopting the “same set” of standards and tests (without mention of federal incentives to do so)
  • A plurality of Americans oppose taking income into account when assigning students to schools
  • Only 16 percent of respondents think local taxes for their district should decrease

All of these results demonstrate good reflexes by the public. They know, for instance, that overall the public schools are performing poorly, but they are a little happier with the districts they often chose when selecting homes. They want to spend more money on schooling because education is generally a good thing, but that drops when they are told how much is actually being spent (a slippery figure few hard-working Americans have time to pin down themselves). They recognize the need for choice, something they benefit from in almost every other facet of their lives. They believe in judging and rewarding people based on their performance. They oppose forcing physical integration – in this case based on income – on students and communities. And they even, reasonably, want all states to have the same academic standards.

About that last point: Intuitively, it seems to make sense. Why should kids in Mississippi be asked to learn less than those in Massachusetts? If I didn’t get paid to analyze education policy – if I had to do other work for 40-plus hours a week – I, too, would probably support national standards because I wouldn’t have time to look at the evidence, or cogitate over the politics behind such a fair sounding proposal. But I do analyze education policy full time, and I know that (1) there is little evidence supporting calls for national standards; (2) many states have adopted national standards mainly in pursuit of federal money; (3) even if you can get initially high standards, they’ll be dumbed-down by politics; and (4) states can perhaps be standardized, but unique, individual students never can be.

Of course, the good-intentions problem is not unique to education. The huge opportunity costs – among other disincentives – that keep members of the public from being able to sufficiently analyze complicated political issues is a major problem in all public policy matters. That’s why good intentions – which the public demonstrates in spades in this poll – can often lead to bad outcomes. But we cannot blame the public for that. We must, instead, inform the public as best we can.