In education, as in the current political climate, those with the loudest voices get the most attention for their cause. Special interest groups consisting of parents, teachers, administrators, boards, and government struggle to align their goals while maintaining a positive learning environment. In an effort to cut through this noise, EdChoice interviews 1,000 Americans every year (in collaboration with Braun Research, Inc.) for its Schooling in America series. Now in its fifth installment, this annual survey gives a picture of what the average citizen thinks of the current state of K-12 education.
“American parents want access to a more diverse set of educational options than they are getting in K–12 education today,” said Paul DiPerna, vice president of research and innovation for EdChoice. “More than eight out of 10 American students attend public district schools, but in our interviews, only about three out of 10 parents said they would choose a district school as a first preference. To be precise, 42 percent would prefer private school; 33 percent, a district school; 15 percent, a charter school; 7 percent, a home school.”
The 2017 report, addresses four general research areas for exploration: parent experiences and satisfaction with local schooling; public opinion on K-12 education, including educational choice policies, school vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax-credit scholarships; average Americans’ perception of the national direction of K-12 education and per-student spending; and what Americans see as a role for the federal government in various public policy areas, including within K-12 education.
“Americans’ support for education savings accounts (ESAs) appears to be on the rise,” continued DiPerna. “When given a description of ESAs, a flexible type of educational choice program, seven out of 10 Americans (71 percent) said they were in favor of ESAs. The margins of general support (+52 points) and strong support (+25 points) are large.” Reasons respondents had for favoring ESAs were access to schools that have better academics (32 percent), more freedom and flexibility for parents (27 percent), and access to schools that provide more individual attention (20 percent).
By providing sound research, EdChoice provides objective data to inform the policy debate. “EdChoice has three core lines of work: research and thought leadership; state relations (coalition-building, strategic planning, implementation, etc.); and trainings and outreach,” continued DiPerna. “We use empirical research to inform the latter activities, and the intended audiences, while trying to filter out the noise of personal opinions and anecdotes. If research findings can at some level speak to values of choice (or freedom), quality, equity, or efficiency, then we improve our chances to engage with influencers and other key audiences.”
Schools fell short in the eyes of Americans when it came to providing academic support outside the classroom, being responsive or proactive to unique situations, providing counseling services, and communicating effectively with parents. With six out of 10 adults in favor of school vouchers, national public opinion is trending toward greater choice in education.
When asked how EdChoice is poised to act as a thought leader, DiPerna offered: “In the past couple years we have seen our research and fiscal analyses bring critical information to bear in policymaking processes in states like Oklahoma, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Dakota, among others. Just this past week several of our publications and online resources were cited in a brief produced by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.”
EdChoice wants to make school choice an issue to be considered on the national policy agenda.
“We strive for our empirical research to do at least some of the following six things: (a) raise awareness about educational choice issues, and the evidence and public opinion around those issues; (b) assess public opinion, the policy climate, and what features may be working well or not working well among school choice programs; (c) provide a foot in the door—so to speak—to talk with policymakers and other stakeholders or influencers; (d) give voice to groups (e.g. parents, rural-small town, minorities, etc.) who tend to have marginalized voices in education policy debates; (e) document those groups’ experiences, views, and priorities, for broader dissemination; and (f) build bridges to initiate conversations about school choice with folks with whom we do not typically engage,” DiPerna concluded.