The annual Education Next poll on school reform is out, and as always it’s boiling over with hot, tasty results. I won’t hit nearly everything in it, and even the topics I do cover can be dissected much further, but I have a few parts I want to highlight.
Questions about the Common Core national curriculum standards have been my main focus in past EdNext polls, and they remain so this time around. The news isn’t good for the Core. Among respondents asked whether they support the Core, defined as standards states chose to adopt that “will be used to hold public schools accountable” – a description heavily biased with the promise of wonderful-sounding accountability – support has dropped from 65 percent in 2013 to 49 percent in 2015. Among teachers, the Core has donned its barrel and plunged from 76 percent support to 40 percent, with 50 percent now opposing it. Finally, getting rid of the accountability promise in the description resulted in just 39 percent of the public supporting the Core and 37 percent opposing, essentially a tie when margin of error is considered.
Questions about the federal role in education reveal what appear to be some serious inconsistencies. Unfortunately, 41 percent of the public thinks Washington should be in charge of “setting educational standards for what children should know,” while 43 percent think the states should be and 15 percent local governments. That means roughly 4 out of 10 people are ignoring the Constitution, as well as the federal government’s very poor track record. More encouraging, lower percentages of parents and teachers would have the feds lead on standards, and only about 1 in 5 members of the public think Washington should decide if “a school is failing” or “how to fix failing schools.” But get this: The poll also finds that 67 percent of the public thinks DC should require that all students “in grades 3-8 and once in high school” take math and reading tests. Oh, and allowing parents to opt their kids out of such tests? Only 26 percent of the public, and 32 percent of parents, support that. If there is a unifying theme here it may be that the public likes the abstract idea of national benchmarks but not centralized ramifications for performance, which we likely see reflected in the Common Core debate and No Child Left Behind reauthorization.
For the first time, the poll asked respondents to what degree various subjects were emphasized in their schools and how much they thought they should be emphasized. What that revealed is the public wants all subjects emphasized more except for athletics, which saw slight sentiment for de-emphasis. So more reading, math, arts, history, science, character education, creativity, bullying prevention and – yikes! – global warming? Yes please!
By the way, Jay Greene has some great thoughts on why character education has close to the biggest gulfs between what is desired and what is delivered, and he cites Cato’s Public Schooling Battle Map. Check out his post to see what I would have said (only not as well as he says it). And the same problem Greene discusses for character education likely applies to global warming, about which the pollsters found that Democrats want more emphasis and Republicans less. Maybe if we had school choice, far more people could get what they wanted on controversial topics like character education and climate change. And speaking of choice…
Overall, like “that re-form,” people seem to like that school choice…maybe. Much depends on the type of choice, question wording, and whom you ask. When charter schools are described as schools that “are expected to meet promised objectives, but are exempt from state regulations,” 51 percent of the public supports them while 27 percent opposes. Getting rid of the description and just asking people if they “support or oppose the formation of charter schools” garners 47 percent support, 19 percent opposition (and a big increase in “neither support nor oppose”). For scholarship tax credits intended “to help low-income parents send their children to private schools,” 55 percent of the public is supportive, versus 26 percent in opposition. For essentially universal private school vouchers, 46 percent support the idea versus 36 percent opposing. Restrict vouchers to only low-income families, however, and support drops to 41 percent. And, again, wording is important. When the question dropped a description of the goal of vouchers – to give low-income families “wider choice” – public support dropped to just 34 percent, with 49 percent opposing. And when the wording was simply for a program “that would use government funds to pay the tuition of all students who choose to attend private schools,” only 27 percent were supportive and 58 percent were opposed. Perhaps the public favors giving people more choice, but doesn’t like giving out taxpayer money for existing choices that people may think are predominantly made by fat cats at very expensive schools.
African Americans and Hispanics support choice far more than whites, which is not surprising given years of previous polling and minorities tending to be in schools that see worse outcomes. 62 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of African Americans support scholarship tax credits for low-income students, versus 53 percent of whites. For “wider choice” universal vouchers, 65 percent of Hispanics and 58 percent of African Americans are supportive, versus 40 percent of whites. For low-income vouchers with the “wider-choice” description, 59 percent of Hispanics are supportive as are 66 percent of African Americans, but just 33 percent of whites. For low-income vouchers without the “wider-choice” description, 50 percent of Hispanics are supportive, as are 42 percent of African Americans and just 30 percent of whites. Finally, 45 percent of African Americans, 34 percent of Hispanics, and a mere 22 percent of whites support using “government funds to pay the tuition of all students who choose to attend private schools.” Clearly, minority families are much more likely to support private school choice than are whites.
In addition to these topics, the poll furnishes fascinating insights on topics including “disparate impact” discipline, teacher tenure, and public schools funding. So why are you still here? Go read it!