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Education Next PEPG Results 2012

The results of the 2012 Education Next-PEPG national poll are in, and they offer some insights into the state of public opinion on major education issues. Support for the reform agenda continues to grow. Reformers enjoy majority support on a variety of school choice initiatives, and trends across time continue to move in a positive direction.

Previous opinion research on education, such as the annual Phi Delta Kappan poll, has often asked questions about vouchers that were potentially misleading. Instead of describing vouchers being funded “at public expense” without context, this poll asks whether voters support a proposal that would “give low-income families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private school instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.” When context is provided and questions are phrased in a neutral manner, voters support vouchers roughly 50-50.

On the other hand, 72% of voters support tuition tax credits despite their similarity in effect to vouchers. Sixty-two percent of voters support “the formation of charter schools”, but actual knowledge about charter schools remains very low, even among teachers. Fifty-three percent of voters support allowing high school students to take online classes, but teachers were more enthusiastic about the idea (63% approval). Voters were also more likely to support online learning being used for rural education and advanced coursework, instead of courses for credit recovery or homeschooling.

Teacher support for unions has dropped 15 percentage points in the past year (compared to a 7 percentage point drop in support among the general public), and the percentage of teachers with negative opinions of unions has doubled to 32%. Teachers are much less likely than the general public to support evaluations weighted towards the use of test scores or to support the public release of information about teacher performance. The poll also finds that voters tend to underestimate teacher salaries, potentially explaining the drop in support for increasing teacher salaries once voters are informed about current salaries. In general, voters unsurprisingly support increased school spending but are unwilling to raise taxes to support spending increases. Again, the support may be due to the underestimation of per-pupil spending. Americans, in this poll, guessed that the U.S. was spending $6,500 per pupil, when in reality, it’s around $12,500. Once voters realize how much the U.S. is spending, they support for increasing money drops by 20%.

Independent voters tend to support more “conservative” positions on school choice and the education establishment. They tend to be closer to Republican voters in their views of teachers unions and school spending. Independent voters are about as likely as Republican voters to support spending increases in their district and salary increases for teachers when informed about current spending levels and salaries. Independents are more likely than either party to support expanding private school choice for disadvantaged students and to support federally funded vouchers. A majority of independent voters also believe that unions have a generally negative effect on schools.

Compared to other voters, Hispanic voters are more likely to be interested in education issues. On many issues they do not differ significantly from whites or African Americans, but there are some exceptions. Hispanics tend to overestimate the quality and underestimate the cost of public schools compared to other racial groups. When informed about current spending levels and salaries, support for increased spending and higher salaries drops precipitously among whites and Hispanics. Black voters are generally more committed to higher spending and higher salaries, even after being informed about current policies.