This is poll week in American education. AP kicked it off with their poll over the weekend, PDK/Gallup releases today (pdf), and Education Next dropped their now annual survey yesterday afternoon (pdf). Some thoughts on all three:
- Advocates want to gravitate toward the one that best supports their view. So the unions put out pressers on PDK but are largely silent on AP and Ed Next. Reformers, meanwhile, like Ed Next and AP. In fact, all three polls have strengths and weaknesses, assume different degrees of prior knowledge, provide different context to respondents, and use different terms. So the best way to consume these polls is to look across all three for areas of convergence and divergence and where the diverge figure out why, and how much how the question is being asked likely affects the response. Question wording matters a lot, especially when the public or parents are being asked to weigh-in on fine grained issues they may not have a great deal of knowledge about. Also, pay attention to who is being asked what, parents or the public.
- The lack of awareness about Common Core is getting a lot of headlines – and should worry Common Core supporters given the politics. But it’s worth asking how unusual this level of awareness really is for a policy change like this this, in education or more generally. Sure, today No Child Left Behind has almost universal name recognition. Yet that’s following a decade of heated debate about the law and three presidential races where it was a key, if not the key, education issue. The numbers didn’t look that way in 2000 or 2002, and even now name recognition doesn’t translate into an understanding of the policy. In other words, the awareness levels have implications for the politics (see below) but are not especially anomalous.
- There are some interesting questions buried in all three surveys. In particular, PDK asked about school closures and disaggregated by race, the results are important. PDK also found that an overwhelming majority of parents and the public think home-school students should be able to play on school sports teams.
- My take? Clearly there is a backlash against some of today’s reform policies. Movement on some questions in the PDK survey across the last few years makes that clear. But it’s not nearly as large a backlash as some would like too see or claim. The Ed Next poll remains very solid on probing on some of this and AP did a nice job in the same vein via a lot of questions – resources matter! And, looking across all the questions it’s pretty clear there is broad support for general reform ideas at a high-level, for instance removing low-performing teachers (most teachers support this, too) and standards and accountability. Specific terms or question framing engender different results but the concepts enjoy support. All that said, given that these issues are rarely fought out among the general public but instead in venues where advocacy groups and elites hold disproportionate sway the news here is not great for reformers. The public is favorably disposed toward change but is not an army of Davids on this and isn’t especially tuned in anyway. Interests groups are. Common Core or not, that’s math politicians understand.