2015 EdNext Poll: Public Backs Testing, Opposes “Opt-out” Movement
Support for Common Core State Standards slips, but opponents are still in the minority; a majority opposes requirements to balance discipline rates across race; only a minority backs union fees for non-union teachers; support for charter schools and tax credits to fund private school scholarships dips, but a majority still favors them
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Today Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School released the ninth annual Education Next public opinion poll on education policies. The 2015 poll finds continuing high levels of support for educational testing and little sympathy for the opt-out movement. Backers outnumber opponents of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), school choice, merit pay and teacher tenure reform, but support for these policies declined modestly from 2014. By a wide margin, survey respondents oppose requirements to balance discipline rates across racial and ethnic groups, and a plurality of the public opposes requirements that teachers pay fees to cover collective bargaining costs even if they do not join the teachers union.
The poll gathers answers from a nationally representative, stratified sample of adults aged 18 and older, as well as nationally representative cross-sections of teachers, African-Americans and Hispanics, for a total sample size of 4,083. The poll was conducted in May and June 2015.
Following are some of the poll’s key findings:
• Common Core State Standards. Support for the CCSS initiative has slipped slightly in 2015. Backing for this initiative to set national standards for schools in all states fell from 65 to 53 percent between 2013 and 2014. While it has dropped another 4 points to 49 percent in 2015, the modest change over the past year suggests that opinion on this issue may be stabilizing. With only 35 percent of the public expressing opposition to the standards, a much higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans favor this Obama-backed policy, by a margin of 57 to 37 percent. Teacher support for the CCSS was substantial in 2013, when 76 percent supported the initiative. That percentage dropped to 46 percent in 2014 and has fallen another 6 points to 40 percent in 2015. The share of teachers expressing opposition rose to 50 percent, leaving just 10 percent undecided.
As the Senate and House of Representatives seek to resolve differences in the testing provisions of a new federal education law, some groups have complained of over-testing and proposed allowing parents to have their children “opt out” of the tests. Yet 67 percent of the public supports continuing federally required testing annually in grades three to eight and once in high school, with only 21 percent opposed. Teachers are evenly divided, with 47 percent supporting and 46 percent opposing a continuation of the policy. The last time EdNext asked this question in 2012, 63 percent of respondents said they supported annual testing, and 12 percent were opposed.
• Opting Out. The survey reveals little public sympathy for the opt-out movement. Fifty-nine percent oppose letting parents decide whether their children should take annual tests, with only 25 percent in favor. Even among parents, 52 percent oppose the opt-out concept, while just 32 percent support it. Among teachers, 57 percent oppose and 32 percent support the opt-out movement.
• School Reform. The school reform momentum created during 2014, an election year that swept Republicans into power in Congress and many state capitals and propelled school reform to a high-water mark, has proven difficult to sustain. Between 2014 and 2015 there were small but consistent declines in support for a range of reform proposals, though majorities still express support for many school reform efforts. Backing for charter schools has dipped to 51 percent in 2015 from a high of 54 percent in 2014, but the percentage of respondents in favor remains nearly twice that of the 27 percent of respondents who express opposition. Support for tax credits to fund scholarships for low-income children has declined in 2015 to 55 percent from 60 percent in 2014, but it still commands a clear majority. Support for merit pay has slid from 57 to 51 percent, and opposition to teacher tenure has declined by the same amount (57 to 51 percent).
• Racial Disparities in Discipline Rates. In 2014 the departments of Education and Justice together sent each school district a letter advising them that they risked legal action if disciplinary policies had a disparate impact on students of a particular race. By a margin of 51 to 21 percent, the public opposes “no-disparate-impact” policies, with the remainder taking a neutral position. Among teachers, opposition to no-disparate-impact discipline is even higher, with 59 percent opposed and only 23 percent in support. Higher levels of support for the federal policy are observed among African-Americans, with 41 percent in favor and only 23 percent opposed. But among Hispanics, only 31 percent of respondents support the policy and 44 percent oppose it. Only 14 percent of whites favor the policy, while 57 percent express opposition.
• Which Subjects Shall We Emphasize? Have federal requirements forced schools to place too much emphasis on math and reading at the expense of the arts and history? Do we emphasize sports too much? This year’s poll conducted the first experimental inquiry into curricular issues. While members of the public think more attention should be given to all subjects other than athletics, some groups want especially more attention given to particular subjects. For example, parents (and the public as a whole) think much more attention should be given to reading and math, while teachers would especially increase emphasis on the arts and history. All three groups would like to see more character education and creativity, and all agree that sports should receive less emphasis. Parents and the general public want to place much more emphasis on bullying prevention, while teachers think the matter only needs moderately more attention. Finally, partisan divisions among the public concerning teaching about global warming resemble those in Congress. Democrats want the topic to be given more attention, while Republicans would like to see less.
• Union Fees. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review an appellate court ruling in a case (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) challenging the constitutionality of a California law that levies an agency fee on teachers who refuse to join a union. The plaintiff argues that the law denies her free speech rights. Similar laws exist in about half the states. A majority of the public with an opinion on the matter agrees with Friedrichs, with 56 percent in favor of ending these agency fees. The more surprising result is that, among teachers, 50 percent want to end them, 38 percent favor the union fee, and 13 percent have no opinion.
A discussion of the design and administration of the poll, along with an interpretation of the key results, is available in “The 2015 EdNext Poll on School Reform: Public thinking on testing, opt out, Common Core, unions and more” by Henderson, Peterson and West. Complete results of the 2015 EdNext poll are available on the Education Next website at https://www.educationnext.org/edfacts. The share of respondents expressing support and opposition do not always add up to 100 percent because on certain questions some respondents do not take a position either in favor or in opposition.
Authors Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West are available for interviews.
About the Authors: Paul E. Peterson is a professor of government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Martin R. West is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and deputy director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School. Michael B. Henderson is research director for the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. For more information about Education Next, please visit https://www.educationnext.org.