Research Shows Information Changes Public Opinion on School Funding

One of the main things my friends here at the Education Policy Center do is to shed light on the public debate with information. It’s good to see in scientific terms that information makes a difference with people’s opinions about important policy issues related to education.

The new issue of Education Next highlights the research of University of Chicago Professor William Howell and Brown University Professor Martin West — who tested this idea in the area of whether schools should receive more funding. Here’s a sample of what they learned:

The average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, and the median response was just $2,000; but for these respondents, local average spending per pupil at the time exceeded $10,000. When told how much the local schools were spending, support for increased spending dropped by 10 percentage points, from 61 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent.

Howell and West find that these differences in opinion based on exposure to key information are consistent across a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, views about the local public schools, and political ideologies.

“It’s clear that the American public is quite willing to update its views in light of new information about public schools,” Howell and West said.

If people think their schools spend $4,200 per student, when they learn the figure is actually a lot closer to $10,000 per student, it shouldn’t be surprising that a significant number of them change their minds. Now we just need more people to read the report on facts about per-pupil spending in Colorado (PDF) written by Ben DeGrow.

The research by Howell and West also features insights on people’s opinions of teacher salaries and charter schools. Check it out!

Let the people decide. Let them vote. But let’s also make sure they’re not relying on misinformation. We can do better!