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Polls, Politics and Education

by Jeanne Allen
Huffington Post
August 27, 2012

In politics, poll results are often fleeting, but they are paid much attention as a gauge on public attitudes and often influence how a candidate or leader might tackle a particular issue. With convention season here and all eyes on the presidential candidates, anyone interested in education — and the economy (which should be everyone) — should take heed to view some polls with a grain of salt.

Last week, an annual survey of public attitudes toward the schools was released by the Gallup Organization in partnership with an ivory tower group called Phi Delta Kappa. It provides additional evidence that our task is a daunting one, for despite the popularity and importance of programs that support and advance parental choice and accountability in education, this poll’s findings would have you believe otherwise.

Respondents are questioned without being given critical facts, data, and context, resulting in responses that contradict today’s current climate and demand for reform. For example, while support for scholarships (aka vouchers) increased in this year’s poll, its findings mask the true strength of public support, evidenced by other polls, by using a question that is factually incorrect and contains a built-in bias against such programs. Gallup asked if respondents favor parents being able to choose a private school “at public expense.” But parents who use scholarships to move a child from a public school (failing to meet their needs) to a private school (that will meet those needs) are certainly part of the “public!” They are targeting funds designated to educate their child to a school that will actually do so.

With nearly 6,000 charter schools in existence in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and credited with a competitive push that has finally made school districts begin to address

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Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll Flaws

At the heart of the PDK/Gallup Poll again this year is one principal theme that in nearly every instance, data, facts, or complete context is not offered in exchange for the opinions sought.

From questions about unions’ impact on educational quality, to whether online learning works, the questions seem determined to elicit feelings and sentimentalities more than thoughtful responses.

Ask a friend or neighbor which they like better –– freedom or prescribed ways of doing things. Invariably, they will pick the former. So the conclusion that most people do not want teachers being told what to do is not really valid. There is so much more behind the issue of what is taught, measured and expected (and this coming from a group known for opposing top down controls!)

Get insight from Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen on the rest of this well-intentioned but flawed annual report here.

Poll: Americans support teachers, but not online education

“Survey suggests Americans support teachers, but not online education”
by Jenna Zwang
eSchool news
August 18, 2011

New poll results from Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup reveal that the American public has an overall positive outlook on its children’s schools, although poll respondents seem to oppose online learning.

While those surveyed overwhelmingly support access to the Internet and technology in schools (61 percent said it is “very important” for public school students to have access at schools), 59 percent oppose having high school students attend school for fewer hours each week if they are using computer technology to learn at home.

Despite this finding, 74 percent of respondents said that public schools should invest more in computer technology for instructional purposes, although that number is down from 82 percent in 2000.

Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, said the PDK/Gallup poll results are somewhat misleading, because of the lack of context that pollsters provide.

“The public allegedly supports more technology use in schools but opposes online learning,” said Allen. “In reality, the poll does little to define it, inferring that such a notion is about learning at home, rather than learning in a fully integrated online environment supported by professionals.”

Survey respondents are more positive regarding their own children’s schools than they have been in the past 36 years, with 79 percent giving an “A” or “B” rating to the school their oldest child attends. Teachers received similarly high marks, with 69 percent of survey respondents giving them “A” or “B” ratings, up from 50 percent in 1985.

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