Tag: survey

Support for School Choice Continues to Grow

Today, Education Next released its latest survey results on education policy. As with the Friedman Foundation’s survey earlier this year and previous Education Next surveys, scholarship tax credits (STCs) remain the most popular form of private educational choice. STCs garnered support from 60% of respondents compared to 50% support for universal school vouchers and only 37% support for low-income vouchers.

The Friedman Foundation’s survey found the strongest support for educational choice among younger Americans. While Americans aged 55 and up favored STCs by a 53%-33% margin, Americans aged 18-34 supported STCs by a whopping 74%-14% margin. While it’s possible that younger Americans are more likely to support educational choice because they’re more likely to have school-aged children, it could also be evidence of growing support for educational choice generally. The series of Education Next surveys provides strong support for the latter interpretation, as shown in the chart below. (Note: the 2013 Education Next survey did not ask about STCs.)

Education Next 2014 Survey

While support for STCs was only 46% in 2009, it has grown to 60% this year. Over the same time, opposition has fallen from 27% to 24%, with a low of 16% in 2012. If support among millennials merely remains constant, overall support for educational choice will continue to grow in the coming years, making the adoption and expansion of such programs increasingly likely.

[See here for Neal McCluskey’s dissection of the Education Next survey questions concerning Common Core.]

Spinning the Core, Again

The annual Education Next survey is out, and its headliner is the Common Core. Unfortunately, it features basically the same incomplete, answer-skewing question it employed last year, and reports the same dubious finding of majority support. But even with that, the direction in which opinion has moved speaks volumes about the serious trouble the Core is in.

Just like last year, the question gives a misleading description of either the Core or national standards generically—pollsters asked a version that did not mention the Core by name—and got high rates of support. Here’s the question, with the parts that were omitted, for half the respondents, in brackets:

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?

Like last year, the question completely ignores major federal coercion behind states’ adopting the Core, as well as the fact that the Core itself is only part of what’s necessary to “hold public schools accountable.” Tests, and consequences for performance on them, are needed for accountability, and those are driven by federally demanded testing and sanctions. Oh, and Washington selected and paid for specific Core-aligned tests.  Meanwhile, generic common standards would in no way have to be used to hold schools accountable; they could just be toothless measuring devices. And how many people would come out against something as seemingly positive as holding schools “accountable”? The devil is in how, exactly, that would be done.

The Coming School Choice Tidal Wave

Last week I reviewed the latest survey on education policy from the Friedman Foundation but I missed something that should warm the cockles of the hearts of everyone who supports greater choice in education: each generation is progressively more favorable and less opposed to educational choice. 

Scholarship tax credits (STCs) remain the most popular form of educational choice. Even among the 55+ cohort, there is a 20 point spread in favor of choice, 53 percent to 33 percent. Support increases in each cohort by 8 to 13 points. Meanwhile, opposition falls precipitously from 33 percent to only 14 percent. The 35-54 cohort has a 39 point spread in favor of educational choice and the 18-34 cohort has a whopping 60 point spread, 74 percent to 14 percent.

Friedman Foundation survey: popularity of scholarship tax credits

Vouchers are the second most popular of the three reforms. While the oldest cohort is slightly more pro-voucher than pro-STC, opposition is 7 points higher at 33 percent, for a spread of 16 points. The margin widens considerably to 32 points for the middle cohort (65 percent support to 33 percent opposition) and 44 points for the youngest cohort (69 percent support to 25 percent opposition), which is 16 points narrower than the spread for STCs.

Americans Underestimate Government School Spending

In addition to showing that American parents favor educational choice and are skeptical of Common Core, the new national survey on education policy from the Friedman Foundation demonstrates that Americans still vastly underestimate how much is spent per pupil at government-run schools. 

According to the latest National Center for Education Statistics data, the average total per pupil expenditure in U.S. public schools was $12,136 in the 2009-10 school year. However, 63 percent of respondents thought that government schools spend less than $12,000 per pupil, including 49 percent who estimated that they spend less than $8,000 per pupil. Those findings are consistent with the 2013 Education Next survey, in which the average guess was $6,680 per pupil, barely more than half of what is actually spent.

Like the Education Next survey, the Friedman survey asked respondents whether they thought public school spending was too high, about right, or too low, after first randomly assigning the respondents into two groups: one that first heard a prompt explaining that the average U.S. public school spends $10,658 per pupil (this is average operating expenditure per pupil), while the other group was not given any prompt. Whereas 56 percent of the uninformed group thought spending was too low, only 47 percent of the informed group agreed. (It’s likely that the shift would have been even more pronounced had the Friedman Foundation cited the higher total per pupil expenditures in the prompt rather than the partial figure. Indeed, a previous Friedman survey found that the public prefers to know the total figure.) Those findings are consistent with the 2013 Education Next survey, which found that 63 percent of uninformed respondents wanted to increase public school spending but only 43 percent of informed respondents agreed.

At an American Enterprise Institute event discussing the findings, AEI’s Ramesh Ponnuru observed that politicians could loudly promise to spend $9,000 per pupil and most voters would think that they were calling for an increase in school funding rather than a significant cut.

Government Promotion of Broadband? No, Thanks.

A Pew Internet and American Life poll out this week finds: “By a 53%-41% margin, Americans say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority.” Non-Internet users are less likely than Internet users to say the government should prioritize spreading access to high-speed connections.

The federal government spent $7.2 billion in “stimulus” money on the premise that the federal government is supposed to do this kind of thing. And the Federal Communications Commission’s “National Broadband Plan” is premised on the idea that there is supposed to be a national broadband plan. It isn’t, and there’s not.

Much as I love using the Internet for work, entertainment, and social connection, I recognize that people can live perfectly happy lives without it. The invention and growth of the Internet should always be seen as having opened new avenues for people, not as having created a national communications medium in which participation is required to live a full life. Social engineers, stand down: people will use the Internet if they want it, and they won’t if they don’t.

Perceptions of Government Pay

A new poll by Rasmussen finds that the general public has an accurate assessment of government worker pay.

Compared to the average government worker, most Americans think they work harder, have less job security and make less money.

In fact, 59% of Americans say the average government worker earns more annually than the average taxpayer, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 15% don’t believe that to be true, while another 26% are not sure.

Among those who have close friends or relatives who work for the government, the belief is even stronger: 61% say the average government worker earns more than the average taxpayer.

Feeding that belief is the finding that 51% of all adults think government workers are paid too much. Only 10% say they are paid too little, while 27% say their pay is about right.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data indeed shows that government workers work fewer hours in a year and have much higher job security than private sector workers. And I’ve argued that they are generally overpaid, and by increasing amounts.

For more, check out:

U.S. Standing in the World

Well before Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Americans were speculating on whether his ascendancy to the highest office in the land would help to improve the United States’ tarnished reputation in the world.

The early indications were encouraging, but largely anecdotal. The Pew Research Center provided data from surveys taken in May and June, and found a mixed picture: attitudes toward the United States were most improved in Western Europe, East Asia, and Africa (Nigeria and Kenya), but barely changed in the several predominantly Muslim countries polled, including U.S. allies Turkey and Pakistan.

The more relevant question is whether we should care. International relations is not a popularity contest. In the classical formulation, nation-states pursue policies that they believe will advance their interests. Sometimes these policies backfire. Sometimes they fail. But, all other factors being equal, we should assume that policies are directed from within, and not much influenced by without.

A recent study published by the American Political Science Association makes a reasonably convincing case that Americans should care about U.S. “standing” not purely for the sake of feeling good about ourselves, but also because improved standing is likely to contribute to more effective foreign policy. “Diminished standing may make it harder for the United States to get things done in world politics,” the report explains. In this context, the report continues, we should “think of standing … as the foreign-policy equivalent of ‘political capital.’” If we have a stored reserve of such capital, we can deploy this to mobilize international support. At a minimum, this will convince other countries to go along with us; in ideal cases, we might obtain their active support.

The report was commissioned by the outgoing APSA president, Peter J. Katzenstein of Cornell University, and the task force was chaired by Jeffrey Legro of the University of Virginia, and included a number of eminent scholars. [The full report is available here, a shorter public version was made available here, and Katzenstein and Legro summarized the findings in a recent article at Foreign Policy.com.]

For the sake of argument, I will concede that America’s reputation is a factor in the extent to which other countries support or oppose our policies, and therefore that it is worthwhile to attempt to bolster our reputation. But the report inadvertently shows that, in practice, even concerted effort by policymakers and opinion leaders to improve U.S. standing is likely to fail, largely because of deep contradictions between what others expect of Uncle Sam, and what Americans expect from our government and from others.

Generally speaking, non-Americans like the United States playing the role of world policeman — provided we do the job well. If the U.S. military deters aggression against small or weak countries, those countries won’t have to devote resources to defending themselves. Oppressed people often welcome U.S. pressure on the autocratic regimes that are oppressing them; some disenfranchised people welcome U.S. government efforts to give them some say in how they are governed, and by whom.

If the opinions of non-Americans were decisive in the formulation of U.S. policies, then we might be able to do all of these things. But they are not. In a list of 14 foreign policy goals polled by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans rank “Promoting and defending human rights in other countries” and “Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression” 12th and 13th, respectively. As far as democracy promotion goes, that falls dead last on the list; a mere 17 percent of respondents thought this a “very important” goal for the U.S. government. 


Despite public skepticism toward these goals here in the United States, non-Americans can be forgiven for believing that the U.S. government exists to do such things for them. After all, the notion that the United States should be the primary provider of global public goods has guided U.S. foreign policy for decades, and almost always in the face of strong opposition to such philanthropic impulses.

As I explain at length in my book The Power Problem, the disconnect between what the public wants, and what the policymakers give them, is deliberate and by design. Most of the people in Washington dismiss public attitudes as misinformed at best and isolationist at worst. But while I agree that we should not conduct our foreign policy on the basis of polls and focus groups, in the grand scheme, the hand-waving and misdirection that our leaders have employed since the end of the Cold War to conceal and distort the true costs of our current grand strategy is, well, unseemly.

Michael Lind has a better word for it: “Nothing could be more repugnant to America’s traditions as a democratic republic,” he writes in The American Way of Strategy, “than a grand strategy that can be sustained only if the very existence of the strategy is kept secret from the American people by their elected and appointed leaders” (my emphasis).

I wholeheartedly agree. In a country that presumes some measure of popular consent, the current pattern is repugnant.

So what does this mean for improving American standing? If the rest of the world wants the United States to be the world’s cop, social worker, and election monitor, but Americans expect our government of limited, enumerated powers to do these things only when U.S. national interests are at stake (and they rarely are), is this the counsel of despair?

Not necessarily. There is another way in which the United States could improve its international standing without having to go out of its way to convince others of our good intentions, and without systematically concealing from the American people the true object of our foreign policies.

As formulated by the APSA task force, “standing” consists of two elements, “credibility” — “the U.S. government’s ability to do what it says it is going to do” — and “esteem” — which “referes to America’s stature, or what America is perceived to ‘stand for.’” The right-leaning members of the academy, including George Washington University professor Henry Nau and Stanford’s Stephen Krasner, who submitted a spirited dissent from the report, question the importance of esteem. Tod Lindberg echoed these sentiments in comments at the National Press Club several weeks ago, at the time of the report’s public release.

I think it goes too far to say that esteem is essentially irrelevant, but I agree that credibility is the more important of the two. As such, it is crucial to fashion policies that are consistent with the wishes of the American people, and that can be sustained in the face of difficult circumstances and potentially high costs.

This means we need a new grand strategy. We could drop the revolutionary impulse behind our foreign policies, declaring ourselves content with the international status quo, and therefore not an imminent threat to any other country or people that respects our rights and liberties. We could likewise disavow any attempt to overthrow the established social order in foreign lands, and reaffirm our respect for sovereignty under international law. Finally, and most importantly, we could reestablish our international reputation by keeping our promises, and that would begin by not making promises that we can’t — and have no intention to — keep.

I will have more to say about that last point at a discussion next month hosted by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California’s Washington Center. To learn more, visit their website.

(C/P from the Partnership for Secure America’s Across the Aisle)