CER President Jeanne Allen Released the Following Analysis of Today’s PDK/Gallup Poll
CER Press Release
August 22, 2012
This fall, CER is Taking America Back to School on Education Reform to provide the American public tools and data to help them form educated opinions about the best ways to address our country’s education crisis. Today’s release of the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools provides additional evidence that our task is a daunting one.
As usual, the PDK/Gallup poll’s findings and analysis about public views on education and reform have the veneer of legitimacy. But once you scratch the surface, it is clear that the findings are “fruit from a poison tree,” since respondents are questioned without being given critical facts, data, and context.
Let’s look at some key issues covered in the poll:
Vouchers: Support for vouchers increased in this year’s poll, despite the use of a question that is factually incorrect and contains a built-in bias against such programs. Gallup asked if respondents favor parents being able to choose a private school “at public expense.” But parents who use scholarships to move a child from a public school (failing to meet their needs) to a private school (that will meet those needs) are certainly part of the “public!” They are targeting funds designated to educate their child to a school that will actually do so.
Charters: While support for charter schools fell slightly in this year’s Gallup poll, our own polling shows that when people have a full and accurate definition of public charter schools, they overwhelmingly support them as an option for families.
Parent trigger laws: We are glad to see the poll recognize the growing importance of parent trigger laws to education reform. Even Hollywood has taken notice with the upcoming feature film “Won’t Back Down,” which chronicles the story of two moms who use a parent trigger to improve their children’s school. Support for a parent trigger was 70%, yet another signal of the high demand for more choice in education. However, the poll question presented just one option: removing leadership of a failed school. Support would likely have been even higher had the poll included other options available to parents, such as taking over their school, or turning it into a charter school.
We’re not surprised to see increased support for school choice. We know from our own polling that support for choice in education is high. We also know that when you provide a fuller picture in soliciting people’s views on education reform, their support for choice increases.
We will soon be releasing the Parent Power Index© (PPI), a tool that will educate parents about the power and choices they truly have in their states to affect their child’s education.
Teacher evaluations: We know people love their teachers. We do, too, but that’s not really the point. Even teachers we really like can be bad at their jobs. That’s why strong evaluations of teacher performance are a key to addressing our education crisis. The poll asks simply whether student performance on “standardized tests” should be part of teacher evaluations. It’s not just about test scores. It’s about how well students are performing against a variety of measures of academic performance, and whether a teacher is actually increasing student achievement. Had the question been posed in that way, support for teacher evaluations would have been much higher.
Common Core: It’s not surprising to note that 75% of respondents support a concept called “common core,” when they are not provided with a definition. In the mind of the average poll respondent, an undefined “common core” will equal “consistency,” which at first blush sounds like a good idea. But the real question is whether “common core” standards are actually focused on higher quality and a stronger education for children? Consistency doesn’t necessarily translate to quality.
Funding: Lack of financial support was once again the top answer (35%) to the generic question asking “What do you think are the biggest problems that the public schools of your community must deal with?” It’s no wonder this continues to be the popular response. The open-ended nature of the question means that most respondents answer without context about how efficiently money is currently being spent. The barrage of media coverage about the ailing economy, teacher layoffs and budget cuts further colors perception of the issue of education spending. The real question is not just how much is being spent, but how it is being spent.
Gallup’s survey could be a useful tool for the public and policymakers, but given the lack of context and inherent biases in the questions, it is once again of very limited utility. We hope the tools we provide in our “Back to School” program will give people better ways to evaluate the efficacy of various reform measures, as well as the performance of those who label themselves as reformers.