THE 74: Majority Of U.S. Voters Give Thumbs Up To School Choice

THE 74: Majority Of U.S. Voters Give Thumbs Up To School Choice

August 7, 2018

New poll findings released by Democrats for Education Reform on Monday found that a majority of U.S. voters believe in reform policies such as expanding public school choice and rewarding quality teachers, and hold that funding alone won’t push the needle forward on helping struggling schools.

For DFER, a left-of-center political action committee, the findings demonstrate that most Americans are what they call “education progressives” — a result that would seem to contradict reports of a splintering within the Democratic party over issues like school choice and merit pay.

Pollsters from the Benenson Strategy Group and 270 Strategies interviewed more than 2,000 voters between May and July.

The poll, on top of informing a new social media campaign, anchored the organization’s latest announcement that it will spend more than $4 million this year — an exponential hike from the reported $83,456 it spent in 2016 — on “priority races.” These include gubernatorial contests in ColoradoNew York, and Connecticut and the superintendent’s race in California. Certain beliefs of “education progressives,” such as charter school expansion, may put them at odds with other self-described progressives within the party.

“Being an education progressive means doing anything and everything we can to improve public schools for all — especially for poor students and students of color,” DFER President Shavar Jeffries said in a statement.


Here are a few takeaways:

A large majority of voters believe children deserve a better education

Seventy-eight percent of all voters — 93 percent of Democratic primary voters — strongly agree that “we need to do everything we can to ensure every child has a fair shot to succeed, no matter where they are from.”

The finding is underscored by stark achievement gaps. Black students, for example, were more than 1.5 academic years behind their white peers in 2017, according to NAEP data. Reforms such as free, high-quality pre-K have amassed support across the political spectrum as a way of narrowing the gap, while Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also pushed for expanding charter schools.

A ‘Lost Decade’ for Academic Progress? NAEP Scores Remain Flat Amid Signs of a Widening Gap Between Highest and Lowest Performers


The majority of Democratic voters say money isn’t the sole answer to fixing schools

Sixty-nine percent of Democratic voters say fixing schools “will take more than just additional money … we need new ideas and real changes to how schools operate.” Among African-American voters, that percentage spikes to 73 percent, but it drops to 56 percent when put to all voters, regardless of party.

Opinions (and research) remain split on whether funding is linked to student performance. While some research has found that student test scores can rise following long-term, stable financial investments, critics have pointed to the Obama administration’s $7 billion program to overhaul chronically low-performing schools — which yielded no significant impactson test scores — as evidence that funding isn’t a panacea.


Ensuring a ‘variety’ of public school options is a top priority

About 65 percent of voters said access to public charter schools, magnet schools, and career academies “no matter where [people] live or how much money they have” is a very important priority (a 6 or 7 on the 7-point scale). Latino and Democratic primary voters closely aligned with this percentage, compared with an overwhelming 86 percent of black voters.

All but six states have laws allowing charter schools. But support of traditional public education hasn’t necessarily waned. Most Americans oppose channeling public funds to for-profit school tuition, and nearly three-quarters say all schools “should have to meet the same state education standards as traditional public schools,” according to a Harvard poll.

When Public Charter Schools Are Private: Labor Rulings Highlight Often Blurred Line


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