The 2016 EdNext Poll – including 10-year trends in public opinion
Common Core and vouchers lose ground; growing opposition to tenure; charter schools and testing retain support
Surprise: Democrats more likely to favor vouchers, but Republicans more likely to back charters
August 16, 2016—In 2016, public support for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers continues to fall, with vouchers viewed more favorably by Democrats than Republicans. Support for charter schools remains steady, as does backing for the federal requirement that students be tested annually. Support for teacher tenure slides, but the percentage of the public thinking teachers deserve a salary increase reaches its highest level since 2008.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Education Next annual survey of a nationally representative sample of Americans and of teachers presents 2016 opinions on education policy together with trends in opinion among the general public and among teachers, giving special attention to the differing views of Republicans and Democrats. This year’s results include two interactive graphics providing both 2016 findings and as much as decade-long trends.
Among the key findings:
• Common Core State Standards. Support for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) continued to decline in 2016. Of all those taking a position, 50% favor the use of Common Core in their state, down from 58% in 2015. However, when the name Common Core is not mentioned, two-thirds of respondents favor the use of the same standards across states. Republicans are 22 percentage points less likely to respond favorably when the name is mentioned, as compared to a 10 percentage point difference among Democrats. Teacher support for CCSS, at 44%, did not change between 2015 and 2016.
◦ Trend: In 2013, 83% of survey respondents supported CCSS; four years later it is 50%. Republicans have made the largest shift away from Common Core over the past four years from 82% favorable in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The four-year drop among Democrats, while less, is also substantial—from 86% to 60%.
• Tests and opting out. There is strong support for using the same standardized test in all states, with 73% of the public in favor of uniform testing; 70% are opposed to letting parents opt their children out of state tests, consistent with 2015 results. Among teachers, opposition to opt out is lower and has declined from 64% in 2015 to 57% in 2016.
◦ Trend: Nearly four out of five respondents favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from third through eighth and at least once in high school, about the same as in the past.
• Teacher tenure. Only 31% of the public support teacher tenure but 67% of teachers do.
◦ Trend: Support for tenure has declined by 10 percentage points since 2013 to an all-time low.
• Charter schools. Public support for charter schools, at 65%, remains high. Substantially more Republicans favor charter schools (74%) than do Democrats (58%), a 16 percentage-point gap between the parties.
◦ Trend: Public support for charters has remained stable since 2013, as has the gap between Republicans and Democrats.
• Targeted school vouchers. Forty-three percent of the public favor vouchers that would give low-income families a wider choice. Surprisingly, the percentage of Democrats who are supportive is 12 percentage points higher than the Republican percentage.
◦ Trend: Public support for school vouchers targeted toward low-income families has dropped by 12 percentage points since 2012 – a major shift in public opinion. Between 2012 and 2016, Republican backing fell by 14 percentage points; among Democrats, the drop is 9 percentage points. Teacher support has slid from 39 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2016.
• Universal school vouchers. Policies that would give vouchers to all families also lost ground, reaching a new low of 50% of the public.
◦ Trend: Public backing for universal vouchers has dropped by six percentage points since 2014. Fifty-one percent of Republicans supported universal vouchers in 2014, compared to just 45% in 2016. However, Democratic support for universal vouchers increased from 49% in 2013 to 56% in 2016.
• Grading schools. Fifty-five percent of the public give their local school an “A” or “B” letter grade, but only 25% give the nation’s schools the same high grade.
◦ Trend: The public grades their local schools more favorably now than at any point in the past ten years, despite mediocre performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress during the same period. The percentage giving their local schools an “A” or “B” grade has risen 12 percentage points since 2007, when 43% of the public awarded one of the two high grades.
• Teacher salaries. The percentage of the public favoring higher salaries for teachers, at 65%, reached its highest point since 2008. Seventy-six percent of Democrats favor an increase, as compared to 52% of Republicans. However, respondents, on average, under-estimate the current salary level of the average teacher in their state—$57,000—by approximately 30%. When provided with this information, backing for increases is just 41%.
◦ Trend: The partisan divide on teacher salaries among those not informed of current levels increased from 14 percentage points in 2008 to 24 percentage points in 2016.
More key findings from 2016:
• Teacher effectiveness. In 2016, Matt Kraft (Brown University) and Alison Gilmour (Vanderbilt) found that in 19 states that reformed their teacher evaluation systems, no state rated more than 4 percent of their teachers as unsatisfactory. We asked respondents to assign a percentage of their local school teachers to four categories (unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good, or excellent). On average, 15% of teachers were rated unsatisfactory. Teachers gave the same low rating to 10% of their colleagues.
• Race-based school discipline policies. The public opposes policies to prevent differences in discipline rates across racial group by a wide margin, with support even within the African American community falling in 2016. The policies, similar to those with which school districts were expected to comply by the U. S. Department of Education in January 2014, garner favor with only 28% of respondents in 2016, virtually unchanged from 2015 (29% in favor). Among African Americans, support has fallen from 65% in 2015 to 48% in 2016. Support among Hispanic respondents remains about the same at 39%. Although opponents out-number supporters in both political parties, there is greater opposition among Republicans: 61% of Democrats oppose the policy compared to 86% of Republicans.
• Blended learning. Support for blended learning has fallen among parents since 2015. The percentage of parents who said that at least 30 percent of time should be spent receiving instruction on a computer has declined from 57% in 2015 to 51% in 2016. Teacher support for blended learning has remained constant at 41%.
Methodology. The 2016 poll gathers answers from a nationally representative, stratified sample of 4,181 adults aged 18 and older, including representative oversamples of teachers (609) and parents with school age children living in their home (1,571). The poll was administered in May and June 2016.
In the 2016 article and figures, percentages are reported for those taking a side on issues by saying they either “strongly” or “somewhat” support or oppose a policy; those giving the neutral response (“neither support nor oppose”) are omitted. This calculation allows the balance of support and opposition to be captured in a single number. For 2016 poll response data including the neutral category, refer to the interactive graphic.
About the Authors: Paul E. Peterson is professor and 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. 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, 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.