2016 Ed Next Survey Data Released

If there’s one thing I look forward to most every year, it’s the release of new survey data on education opinions in America. I’m just kidding. I obviously look forward to Christmas most. But new survey data is a close second.

About this time last year, we were gleefully digging through the results of the 2015 Education Next and Gallup/PDK education surveys. The latter poll, you may remember, is not really one of my favorites when it comes to fairness and a general lack of bias. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if this year’s version is a little more credible. In the meantime, we can chew on the generally more convincing Education Next results for 2016.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Education Next poll, it gathers a nationally representative sample of adults (about 4,000 this year) and asks them questions about just about everything you could ever imagine related to education. There is tons and tons of useful, interesting information buried in this year’s results and the accompanying narrative summary and interactive graphs, but we’ll just focus in on the big stuff for today.

Before we get started, you should note that you may encounter some strange discrepancies between reported percentages in the stuff linked above. That’s because the 10-year trend data reports percentages for only those who took a position on any given issue, omitting the folks who remained neutral from the calculations. Those percentages are notably different than the overall percentage when the neutral responses are included. For instance, support for Common Core in 2016 was at 42 percent overall among members of the general public in 2016. But if you exclude the neutral responses, you find that 50 percent of those who took a position supported the standards.

I know that’s a little confusing, but hopefully you see what I mean. If not, just know that the numbers below are based only on the percentage breakdown of folks who had an opinion on the covered subjects. They do not include those who remained neutral.

Without further ado, here we go:

Common Core has grown even more radioactive. The drop in support for the Common Core State Standards has been pretty spectacular. In 2013, 83 percent of those who took a side said they supported the standards. That figure is now 50 percent. Meanwhile, Republican support has plummeted from 82 percent to 39 percent, and Democratic support has fallen from 86 percent to 60 percent. Only 44 percent of teachers who took a side support the standards, which is the same as last year’s figure.

As is often the case, these numbers look somewhat different when the words “Common Core” are removed. After that tweak, two-thirds of respondents taking a side support the idea. The language change bumps Republican support up by about 22 percent and Democratic support by 10 percent. What does that mean? That the Common Core brand is severely damaged at this point, but the general idea behind it may not be as wildly unpopular as one might think. Some people might find that to be terrifying. Others may see it as good news. Either way, the numbers are what they are.

Annual testing requirements are actually pretty popular. This year’s survey finds roughly the same thing as last year’s poll, which is that the overwhelming majority of Americans—78 percent—support annual assessment in grade 3-8 and at least one assessment in high school. That figure is noticeably lower than the 2011 peak of 88 percent, but only a little lower than support levels in 2010 and 2012. Seventy-four percent of Republicans support annual testing, down from 83 percent in 2012. That’s a surprisingly high number given that the language involves federal testing requirements, but there it is. For Democrats, the figure is 80 percent—a slight decline from 84 percent in 2012. Most teachers who take a position also support testing, but the margin is pretty thin with only 52 percent in favor.

Notably, levels of support for annual testing requirements actually rose very slightly (by 1 to 2 percent) compared to 2015 among the general public, Republicans, Democrats, and teachers.

Most people still oppose allowing students to opt out of testing. Seventy percent of those who took a position opposed allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized assessments, which is the same percentage as last year. However, opposition to opt-out policies has fallen from 64 percent in 2015 to 57 percent among teachers in 2016.

As I often say, there is no world in which I would like to see the state force parents to comply with standardized testing requirements if they do not wish to. At the end of the day, children belong to parents, not systems. That’s why I support parents’ right to opt their children out of testing if they so choose. Even so, I remain deeply skeptical of the intent of the broader opt-out movement, which has increasingly branded itself as a full-blown anti-reform movement. And I do believe that there are some very good reasons—taxpayer accountability, informed school choice, preparation for future educational attainment, etc.—to support annual testing.

Fortunately, we should have plenty of time to discuss those ins and outs in the coming years. If these numbers are any indication, the opt-out debate is far from over.

Support for charter schools remains high and consistent. About 65 percent of the public who took a position on the issue favor public charter schools. That support has been relatively stable over the past few years, which shouldn’t come as any great surprise to those of us in Colorado. After all, our state is no stranger to very high demand for the options provided by these schools.

Interestingly, support for charter schools has fallen off significantly among Democrats who take a position on the issue. The percentage of these folks who support charters now rests at 58 percent—a 14 percent drop from a peak of 72 percent in 2008. Support among Republicans has remained mostly constant, and now sits at 74 percent. Somewhat distressingly, fewer than half of teachers who take a position favor charter schools.

Support for vouchers has fallen sharply. I was somewhat surprised to see that the level of public support for vouchers has fallen significantly in recent years, with only about a third of those who have an opinion supporting government-funded vouchers for low-income kids. That number is slightly higher (43 percent) if the language is tweaked, but still low. Fifty percent of the general public still supports universal (i.e., not means-tested) vouchers, but even that percentage represents a steep decline from a peak of 64 percent in 2011.

Even more surprising is the fact that significantly more Democrats now support vouchers than do Republicans. Republicans have historically been seen as more friendly to private school choice programs, so this finding is rather confusing. Researchers at Education Next posit that the shift may have something to do with the fact that vouchers have been made into a civil rights issue thanks to a relentless focus on equal opportunity. That theory may go some way toward explaining why some left-leaning constituencies support vouchers, but I don’t buy the underlying implication that conservatives don’t really care about giving every kid a fair shot at success. In fact, I’d argue that the belief in and desire for fair competition and the earned success it can bring are fundamentally conservative perspectives.

The drop may also be due to the fact that recent negative research on the effects of some voucher program has, through the prodigious use of the anti-choice coalitions media echo chamber, may have chilled public opinion somewhat. Or it could be due to something else entirely, or to a combination of several different factors. I think it’ll be a while before we sort out exactly what we’re seeing when it comes to changing levels of support for vouchers. For now, we do have to acknowledge that support has fallen.

But support for other private school choice programs remains very strong. Unfortunately for the choice opponents who are, at this very moment, doing a jig because of what I just wrote about support for vouchers, support for other types of school choice programs remains strong. Sixty-five percent of members of the public with an opinion on the subject support scholarship tax credit programs, which now exist in 17 states across the country. A healthy majority of both Republicans and Democrats support such programs, as well, although support is once again significantly higher among Democrats (69 percent) than it is among Republicans (60 percent).

Weird, I know. But weird or not, it’s clear that scholarship tax credit programs are currently the bee’s knees of private school choice efforts in America when it comes to levels of support.

Most people still agree with the policy positions and ideas adopted by the broader reform movement. Sixty percent of the general public supports merit pay for teachers, as do most Republicans and Democrats. However, only 20 percent of teachers like the idea—a phenomenon that may have something to do with our failure to frame the concept the right way. A similar disconnect exists on the subject of teacher tenure, which only 31 percent of the public supports. Among Republicans, that number is 29 percent. For Democrats, it’s 41 percent. Among teachers, though, support for tenure sits comfortably at 67 percent.

On the subject of teacher performance, members of the public figure that roughly 15 percent of teachers are not teaching at a satisfactory level. Among teachers, that estimate is 10 percent. Yet for many years nearly every teacher was rated effective, and recent research shows that even new, supposedly tougher evaluation systems designed to correct that problem are only rating about 4 percent of teachers ineffective or unsatisfactory. Here in Colorado, the most recent data from the State Model Evaluation System show that only about 2 percent of teachers in participating districts were rated partially effective. Exactly zero were rated ineffective. Big takeaway: We’ve got a lot of work to do in the area of evaluation reform.

There’s a lot more in the data about school finance and unions and… well, you get the point. We will almost certainly circle back to that information in the near future. For now, I’m going to stop before your eyes fall out of your head. You’ve gotten your weekly dose of edu-policy and then some. Now go enjoy your weekend! I’ll see you back here next week.