Results from the 49th annual PDK Poll of public’s attitudes toward the public schools were released last week. The PDK Poll, commissioned by the pro-public-school magazine, Phi Delta Kappan usually gets a fair amount of coverage and this year was no exception.
While the PDK Poll has many valuable results, it’s not without its shortcomings and critics. The Center for Education Reform offers a good summary of these here.
As with many polls, some of the results get lost in the reporting. Two such include respondent replies for: 1) where parents would send their children to school if given the choice, and 2) parents’ attitudes toward vouchers.
The PDK poll reported that if “cost and location were not issues, just one-third of parents say they’d pick a traditional public school over a private school (31 percent), public charter school (17 percent), or a religious school (14 percent).” And “only slightly more than half of public school parents (54 percent) say they’d stick with a public school if they were offered public funds to send their child to a private or religious school” (assuming full tuition coverage).
These are disappointing results and seem to strongly suggest parents want other options.
The PDK Poll has also traditionally asked a few questions about school choice. In 2011, 2012, 2013,2015 and 2017, the poll has included the following: Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?
According to this year’s results, 52 percent of respondents said they oppose allowing parents to choose a private school at public expense; 39 percent of respondents said they support doing so.
Yes, it’s a terrible poll question. Since it discourages support for vouchers, the question cannot be considered objective. The important thing however is that the PDK Poll asked the same question for five of the last seven years.
While the results may seem discouraging, a recent blog post from Harvard professor Paul Peterson, suggests that if you compare results across polls, you get a different story. While it’s true support for vouchers declined in 2011 and 2013, since then support for vouchers has actually increased 10 percentage points from 29 percent to 39 percent.
According to Peterson,
the biggest change in support has been among Democrats whose support for vouchers increased from 2015 to 2017 from 16 percent to 31 percent. For those who said they were independents, the shift upward was from 29 percent to 42 percent.
All the more reason to do a little digging behind the headlines.