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Support for Charter Schools Dwindles While Support for Local Control of Schools Rises, According to New Poll

Support for charter schools seems to be losing favor, but opposition to universal vouchers for private school choice is on the decline as well. And education policies favored by President Trump aren’t winning much support from Democrats either, according to results from the 11th annual poll of Americans' opinions on education conducted by Education Next.

On the issues of charter schools, the results of public opinion are mixed. Thirty-nine percent of respondents want to see more charters—schools that are funded by public money, but usually operating independent from a school district—that's a 12-point drop from last year’s 51 percent. Thirty-six percent of respondents were opposed to more charter schools, while 25 percent had no opinion on the matter.

The results might lead one to believe the results reflect a decline in support for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been adamant about making it her mission to expand school choice. The authors of the poll make a point, however, claiming that the decline can’t be directly linked to team Trump, as charters slipped almost equally across party lines. Down 11 percent among Democrats and by 13 percent among Republicans.

The dramatic change in the political climate can’t be ignored though, with education policies that end with the words “supported by President Trump” having an overall negative effect on the opinions of poll respondents.

Call it the “Trump Effect” on the issues of charter schools, tax credits, merit pay for teachers, and Common Core, Trump’s association with an education policy proved to be very polarizing. Half the sample were told of the president’s position on these issues and half were not. When poll respondents were told of Trump’s position, Republicans moved toward it on three of the four issues, “including a 15 percentage-point increase in support for charter schools.” When informed of Trump’s position, Democrats moved away from the president’s position on two of the four issues, including a 14 percentage-point decrease in support for merit pay.

In the first two years of the Obama presidency, Obama enjoyed bipartisan support, moving public opinion towards his position, though this disappeared by 2010.

While support for charter schools weakened, so did the public’s opposition to school vouchers. Opposition to voucher-type programs, championed by Trump, declined across the board from 44 percent to 37 percent. When the opinion of respondents based on political party was examined, the polls found Republicans favoring of school vouchers was 14 points higher (54 percent) than that of Democrats (40 percent). This showed a change from 2016, when Democrats showed more voucher support than Republicans by an 8 percentage-point margin.

The survey also found that the public generally doesn’t like the phrase “Common Core,” showing a very nuanced perspective on its standards. Perception of the standards adopted by many states in 2010, slipped sharply between 2013 and 2016, with 41 percent still supporting it in 2017 and 38 percent opposed. Among Republicans, 32 percent supported Common Core standards and 51 percent opposed. On the other side of the aisle, 49 percent of Democrats support it and 28 percent oppose it. Interestingly, the conductors of the survey found that when the same standards are kept, but not called “Common Core” support rises among public opinion to 61 percent.

The 2017 poll numbers also showed that the public’s opinion has shifted away from federal control of schools to a more local control approach. To gauge the public’s opinion on the topic, researchers asked half of the respondents to indicate which level of government should have the largest “role in three areas: 1) setting educational standards for what students should know; 2) deciding whether or not a school is failing; and 3) deciding how to fix failing schools.” Overall, the majority said state or local government should be making those decisions. Only 16 percent of respondents said the federal government should have the biggest role in fixing failing schools, and 13 percent said the federal government should decide whether or not a school is failing. Thirty-six percent of those polled said the federal government should have the most power in setting educational standards, down 5 points from 2015.

When it came to laws that would give states the power to take control of local districts where student academic performance was low, 69 percent of Americans supported such laws. Among teachers it was more evenly split, with 50 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.

Administered in May and June 2017, the poll collected responses from a nationally representative sample of 4,214 adults, including teachers (669) and parents with school-age children living in their home (2,170).

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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