The new Phi Delta Kappa-Gallup Poll on education is now available. Read it because it always gets a lot of play, but not because you’re seeking too many insights into what the public thinks about public education. Although there are some interesting questions again this year, overall what was once a very useful barometer of public opinion has become a political exercise. For instance, some of the No Child Left Behind questions are factually flawed rendering the data basically worthless.
Moreover, in public opinion polls about issues they’re not very familiar with, people have a tendency to say whatever is most accessible to them even if this means their views are contradictory. See this book for a good discussion on problems with opinion research. That issue seems to be very much in play here. For example, despite understandably reacting negatively to most of the various descriptions of NCLB, when asked if support for it would make them more or less likely to vote for a candidate, a comfortable margin of voters say “more likely.” Vouchers engendered a similar, albeit more narrow, result. See tables 41 and 42.
Still, the voucher crowd will no doubt again holler about the choice questions. Mostly they’re on shaky ground doing so because they cook their own questions, too. To read a good debate between Stanford’s Terry Moe and Alex Gallup and Lowell C. Rose of Kappan about this, click here, here, and here. Moe plays it straight on this issue, if you’re really interested in all this, his book Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public is well worth reading.
Bottom line? Surprise! Results vary depending on how questions are phrased and respondents have a frustrating tendency to say about anything. And, like a mutual fund, past results are no guarantee of future performance…