Does better information influence the views people hold on issues of public policy? That’s the question two educational researchers William G. Howell of the University of Chicago and Martin West of Brown University set out to answer in a major national survey “Educating the Public” conducted by Education Next and the Program on Education Governance and Policy at Harvard University.
The researchers looked at the attitudes toward public education. They found that better information leads to lower levels of public support for school spending and teacher salary increases. The survey results revealed that when respondents are provided with accurate information about current levels of financial support, Americans support for increased spending and confidence that additional spending will improve outcomes, declines. Interestingly, the researchers also found support among the general public for teacher salary increases declines the more one knows about how much the average teacher earns. Of even greater significance is that differences in opinion based on exposure to key information are consistent across socioeconomic background, political ideologies and views about local public schools.
Results suggest that American support for public education isn’t as solid as we’re frequently told. People are clearly influenced by new and accurate information and they’re very willing to revise their thinking about public education.