Monday, February 10, 2014

Voters Don't Know Much, But They Know They Like Choice; But Why?

A new report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, Interstate Survey: What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education in Six States?, found that heavy majorities in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York favor expanding school choice through charters, vouchers and tax-credits.  Respondents did not, however, favor all public school alternatives.  They opposed virtual schools by even larger majorities.  The Foundation uses these results to support its agenda, but these results don't impress me that much.  Instead, the overall survey results suggest knee-jerk reactions, or guesses, rather than thoughtful or personally-held positions on the part of many respondents.  

For instance, the survey also assessed respondents' basic knowledge of their state's funding levels, graduation rates, and achievement scores.  On these objective measures, a large percentage, and sometimes a majority, were way off.  Of course, not knowing the facts is not a bar to voting and, thus, policy advocates and politicians probably don't care.  But to me, these responses indicate there was a fair amount of guessing going on.  Moreover, the guessing may have been influenced by what the guessers thought the questioners or public preferred  on the issues of vouchers, charters, and tax-credits.  Consider that strong majorities indicated that they favored expanding charters, but only 8 to 14 percent of respondents indicated they would select a charter for their own child.  

The other factor is that most respondents' perception of public schools is overly-deflated. A large percent perceiving public schools to be in worse shape than they are, which helps explain why a majority prefers alternatives in various forms.  Regardless, striking to me was the percentage, who, if given the chance, would select a private school.  I find this striking because, as discussed in an earlier post, public schools on the whole outperform private schools. 

Choice Capture

*chart courtesy of Foundation for Educational Choice

Yet, there is serious danger in assuming that the majority of parents who prefer school choice and private schools do so for quality reasons.  The survey does an abysmal job of sorting this out.  The survey asked what the most important factor in selecting a school was and the answers were: standards/curriculum, structure/discipline, test scores, school/classroom size, extracurriculars, religious or philosophical missions, and location.  They did not ask, or respondents did not admit, the relevance of demographics in selecting schools, ie, the school's racial and socioeconomic statistics.  Three of these states were formerly segregated by law and another two of the northern states have extremely high levels of de facto segregation, past and present.  I would not necessarily expect respondents to admit these factors (although I have seen other studies where they did), but leaving these factors entirely out of a survey about school choice hides a key issue.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2014/02/voters-dont-know-much-but-they-know-they-like-choice-but-why.html

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