Some of the best polling on national education issues is done by the journal Education Next. Results from the annual Education Next Poll on School Reform were released earlier this week.
Some relevant information: the poll includes a national sample of 4,200 respondents. The survey was administered from May 5 to June 7, 2017. Questions were focused on ten main topics including: school choice, teacher policies, common core, federalism, immigration and English-only instruction and parents’ aspirations for their children’s higher education, the Trump effect, technology and religious afterschool student clubs. The sample size includes 53 percent of respondents who identify as Democrats; 43 percent as Republicans and 4 percent as undecided or affiliated with another party
Since results were released earlier this week, there has been a lot of handwringing by school choice advocates and school reformers over one finding: a drop of 12 percentage points in support for charter schools between 2016 and 2017 (See articles here and here). The percentage of respondents who said they support the formation of charter schools declined from 51 percent in 2016 to 39 percent in 2017. Similar declines in support are found among both Democrats and Republicans. Equally surprising is that these developments come at a time when opposition to school vouchers and tax credits to fund private school scholarships has declined.
You can’t help but ask if these results reflect changing attitudes about charter schools in North Carolina?
Civitas monthly polling has frequently included questions about public opinion on charter schools. Our most recent relevant poll question on charter schools was from January 2017. It asked:
As you can see the results are strong and represent an public endorsement for charter schools. If you dig deeper into the poll’s crosstabs, you’ll see that support for charter schools is strong among all groups; Republicans (74 percent); Democrats (62 percent) and Unaffiliated (74 pecent).
Unfortunately, Civitas did not ask a similar question in 2016 to provide another data point. However results from two poll questions might help to shed additional light on this question.
In June of 2016 however — in the middle of the public discussion over legislation to create an Achievement School District — Civitas asked respondents if they would support or oppose legislation to allow charter school operators with a track record of success to manage up to five of the lowest performing schools in the state and give these schools greater flexibility to improve academic performance. Public support for the idea was strong; 62 percent of respondents said they supported or strongly supported the idea; 21 percent opposed or strongly opposed the idea and 18 percent of respondents didn’t know or didn’t reply.
In April of 2017 Civitas asked respondents if they would support or oppose the state providing money to charter schools to help with facility costs. Over half of all respondents said yes: 52 percent of respondents supported or strongly supported the idea; 37 percent opposed or strongly opposed the idea and 12 percent didn’t know or did not reply.
While these last two questions don’t track exactly with the first, they do indicate a strong level of public support for charter schools in North Carolina, support that has seemed to grow over time.
Will public support for charter schools continue to decline nationally? That’s hard to say. Right now, it appears — unlike other parts of the country — charter schools in North Carolina continue to enjoy strong public support. Whether North Carolina charter schools will continue to defy the national trends is something many will be watching.