The 2017 EdNext Poll–including the Trump Effect on public opinion about education
Charter schools lose favor but opposition to vouchers declines; Opposition to Common Core plateaus and support for using the same standards across states gains ground
Also: How parents’ hopes for children’s college degree attainment change when financial information is provided
August 1, 2017— The 2017 Education Next annual survey of American public opinion on education shows public support for charter schools has dropped, even as opposition to school vouchers and tax credits for private-school scholarships has declined. Opposition to the Common Core State Standards seems to have finally leveled off. When the “Common Core” name is not mentioned, support for the same standards across states rises among both Democrats and Republicans. Meanwhile, support for the federal role in education policy has waned. This year’s poll also finds that President Trump’s policy preferences widen the partisan divide on issues such as charter schools, Common Core, tax credits, and merit pay for teachers.
The nationally representative EdNext survey also includes representative samples of teachers, Hispanics, blacks, Republicans, and Democrats. New this year is a breakdown of white respondents by education. This year’s results include two interactive graphics providing both 2017 findings and 11-year trends.
Among the key findings:
• Charter school support drops. In a dramatic change of opinion over the past year, support for charter schools has declined by 12 percentage points, from 51% last year to only 39% this year (36% opposed). Support has fallen by 13 percentage points among Republicans and by 11 percentage points among Democrats, to 47% and 34% support respectively, leaving the partisan gap on the issue largely unchanged. Support for charters among blacks has dropped from 46% to 37% and among Hispanics from 44% to 39%.
• Opposition to private school choice declines despite partisan differences. Opposition to universal vouchers, which give all families a wider choice, has declined from 44% to 37%, while support for vouchers targeted to low-income parents has increased by six percentage points (43% in 2017 up from 37% in 2016). However, an analysis of individuals by political party reveals that support for universal vouchers has increased by 13 percentage points among Republicans (to 54%) but fallen by 9 percentage points (to 40%) among Democrats, whereas in 2016, Democrats were more supportive than Republicans of universal vouchers by an 8-percentage point margin. Opposition to tax-credit funded scholarships has declined from 29% to 24%.
• Support for national standards rises while opposition to Common Core levels off. Though support for Common Core plummeted between 2013 and 2016, the downward trend has leveled off, with support standing at 41% (38% opposed) in 2017, virtually the same as in 2016. Support for standards that are the same in all states is, at 61%, 20 percentage points higher when the name is not mentioned (6 percentage points higher than in 2016). While there remains a partisan divide in support for Common Core (32% in favor among Republicans and 49% among Democrats), support rises to 64% and 61%, respectively, when the name is not mentioned, eliminating the partisan gap.
• Support for local control of schools is on the rise. Although a plurality of the public continues to think accountability policy should mostly be a state responsibility, the latest poll numbers show that the public has shifted away from federal towards local control of schools. Only 36% of the public think the federal government should play the largest role in setting standards, down 5 percentage points from 2015; only 13% think it should identify failing schools, also down 5 percentage points; and only 16% think the federal government should be responsible for fixing schools, down 4 percentage points. Democratic support for federal decision-making has dropped by 8, 6, and 7 percentage points, respectively. The share of the public thinking these policies should be a local responsibility has risen by 4, 6, and 7 percentage points, respectively, for the three areas.
• Information about cost and earnings has little impact on college-going preferences–except among Hispanics. The latest poll shows that two-thirds of the public want their child to pursue a 4-year degree, while only 22% prefer a 2-year degree. Among white respondents with a 4-year college degree, 88% want their child to pursue a 4-year degree, compared to 57% of white respondents without a 4-year college degree. Most respondents, when they are informed as to the average costs and earnings associated with 2-year versus 4-year degrees, do not change their preferences. For Hispanics, however, providing both types of information shifts their preference for a 4-year degree to 72%, from 61% when no information is provided. This shift reverses the white-Hispanic gap in preferences for a 4-year degree. These findings emerge from an experiment where a randomly chosen group within the sample receives financial information while another group does not.
• The Trump Effect. On four issues—Common Core, charter schools, tax credits, and merit pay for teachers—the poll examines whether President Trump’s endorsement of a policy has a polarizing effect on public opinion by telling half of the sample the president’s position while not supplying this information to the other. EdNext conducted similar experiments in 2009 and 2010 during President Obama’s first two years in office. In 2009, Obama enjoyed a period of bipartisan support during which he moved public opinion toward his position, though the effect waned in 2010. Trump has not enjoyed such a “honeymoon” period (see figure). When informed of Trump’s position, Republicans move toward it on three of the four issues, including a 15 percentage-point increase in support for charter schools. However, Trump fails to persuade Democrats, who move away from the president’s position on two of the four issues, including a 14 percentage-point decrease in support for merit pay. These offsetting effects leave overall public opinion on these issues largely unchanged.
The 2017 EdNext Poll also asked respondents their opinion on: immigration policies, instruction for English language learners, religious clubs at school (including Muslim and atheist), testing and accountability, teacher tenure and merit pay, teachers unions and agency fees, technology use in the classroom, and more.
Methodology. The 2017 poll gathered responses from a nationally representative, stratified sample of 4,214 adults aged 18 and older, including representative oversamples of teachers (669), parents with school age children living in their home (2,170), and Hispanics (805). The poll was administered in May and June 2017. (Note: Last year, poll data in the press release and essay were reported excluding the neutral category. This year, we report data including the neutral category. For last year’s data including the neutral category, refer to the 2016 interactive graphic available here.)
About the Authors: Martin R. West, editor-in chief of Education Next, is associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and deputy director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. Michael B. Henderson is research director for the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University. Paul E. Peterson is professor and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, where Samuel Barrows is a postdoctoral fellow.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit www.educationnext.org.