Academic journal article Education Next

The 2017 Ednext Poll on School Reform: Public Thinking on School Choice, Common Core, Higher Ed, and More

Academic journal article Education Next

The 2017 Ednext Poll on School Reform: Public Thinking on School Choice, Common Core, Higher Ed, and More

Article excerpt


The past 18 months have seen an enormous swing in the Washington power balance, a shift that has heightened the polarization that has characterized our public life for more than a decade now. How has this divisive political climate influenced public opinion on education policy and reform? And how much, if at all, has the new president swayed the public's views? The 2017 Education Next survey, conducted in May and June of this year, offers us an opportunity to explore these questions and many more. With this year's survey, our 11th annual poll of a representative sample of the American public, we examine current attitudes toward major issues in K-12 education and compare the results with those of prior years. We also break down responses by political party and, for whites, by level of education. These analyses allow us to see whether changes have been concentrated in any specific political or demographic group.

Our sample of more than 4,200 respondents, including oversamples of parents and teachers, also gives us the chance to experiment with some of the survey questions in order to tease out nuances in public opinion. For a variety of questions, we divided our respondents randomly into two (or more) groups and asked each group a slightly different version of the same question. For example, we told one group about President Donald J. Trump's position on an issue while the other group was not given this information. By comparing the responses of the two groups, we are able to estimate the "Trump effect" on public thinking. Since we performed this same experiment during the first two years of the Obama administration, we are able to compare the Trump impact with the Obama one.

This article covers nine main topics. Some of the key findings are:

1. School choice. Public support for charter schools has fallen by 12 percentage points, with similar drops evident among both self-described Republicans and self-described Democrats. Meanwhile, opposition to school vouchers and tax credits to fund private-school scholarships has declined.

2. Common Core. Support for using the same academic standards across the states has risen since 2016--as long as the "brand name" of Common Core is not mentioned. When the Common Core name is stated, the level of support remains essentially the same as it was one year ago, but when the question simply asks about standards "that are the same across the states," public support rises by 5 percentage points over what was observed last year.

3. Federalism. Compared with 2015, the public prefers a smaller role in education for the federal government and a larger role for local governments in three policy areas: setting standards, identifying failing schools, and fixing failing schools. However, a clear plurality continue to prefer that state governments play the predominant role in these areas.

4. Teacher policies. The public is showing an increased resistance to change when it comes to policies affecting teachers. The percentages favoring merit pay, an end to teacher tenure, and increases in teacher salaries are all down about 5 percentage points. However, a plurality continue to support all three reforms.

5. Trump effect. Half of the respondents were told of Trump's position on four issues--Common Core, charter schools, tax credits, and merit pay. The other half were asked the same question without mention of the president. In general, the effect of being told the president's position was to boost support among Republicans and reduce it among Democrats. The overall impact, however, was roughly nil.

6. Immigration and English-only instruction. Two thirds of the public prefer that students whose native tongue is not English be immersed in English-only classrooms. That percentage remains the same when the students are identified specifically as immigrants. A sizeable majority of Hispanics (59%) also favor initial instruction in the English language, and 53% favor this policy for immigrant children as well. …

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