The National School Boards Association is happily basking in some new CBS News polling results showing African-Americans are less favorably disposed toward school vouchers than some other educational reform options. That’s true, as multiple polls show. However, it’s a dangerous mistake to misread these poll numbers as evidence that minorities don’t support vouchers, which NSBA also does. As Ellis Cose noted recently in Newsweek:
“…most people view vouchers in a positive light. Some 66 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, as do 54 percent of whites. But most people understand quite clearly that in the real world they are not likely to get a voucher that will allow them to send a child to any school of their dreams. So it is not inconsistent that a majority of Americans favor increasing funding for public education over providing parents with vouchers. Nor it is surprising that blacks, even more than whites, strongly support funding for public schools.”
Likewise, it’s also not inconsistent that minorities are going to support vouchers when they’re offered because many low-income parents are desperate for better quality educational options for their kids. They’re not hostile toward public education, they just want what’s best for their own children and there is an attractive immediacy to vouchers that most other reforms (with the notable exception of public charter schooling and radically changing the distribution of teachers) do not offer.
Eduwonk’s no fan of vouchers for practical and philosophical reasons, but recognizing and acknowledging this reality — the understandable support for them in the African-American community and the demand for change now — is essential to addressing the very real problems that threaten to erode support for public education. Denying this angst is a recipe for disaster over the long haul.
This poll (PDF) from the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies also offers a more textured view about public opinion.