This is the second in a series of blog posts called EduFacts: The SOS March in Context.
As demonstrators prepare to gather in Washington, DC and other locations around the nation for this week’s Save Our Schools March, educators, journalists, and policymakers are trying to determine just what kind of changes to public schools the organizers are calling for. While much of the messaging on the group’s website seems worthwhile, even noble, at first glance, many of the SOS guiding principles turn out to be quite elusive when read a second time.
To their credit, however, the SOS marchers do have some specific, concrete policy recommendations. They want “an end to economically and racially re-segregated schools”—a principle strongly supported by nearly all who contribute to education policy creation, if read literally; but, in reality, a coded phrase for eliminating charter schools and other schools of choice. Pay-for-performance should be ditched, they also argue, as should competitive grants, increased class sizes, and closing schools with poor test scores.
The raison d’être of the SOS March and website is a demand, a plea, that decisions concerning education policy and practice be returned to the public. Teachers, parents, students, and communities have lost ground to powerful political and corporate interests, the organizers assert, and they want to take back their seats at the education policy table. Yet, the intellectuals who designed the SOS March and articulated its principles face one big, insurmountable contradiction in their argumentation: The American public—that they claim to champion—disagrees with much, if not most, of the K-12 education vision outlined by SOS’s organizers. Take a look at some of the most recent public opinion data on education policy to more clearly see this contradiction:
Grading Current Public Schools
A supermajority of Americans does not believe the nation’s public schools, as a whole, are presently offering students an academically rigorous education. In 2010, just 18% of PDK / Gallup Poll respondents gave the nation’s public schools a grade of A or B, down from 27% in 1985; more than 1 in 4 respondents gave today’s public schools a D or below. (It’s also true, however, that when grading the school their oldest children attend, 77% of parents gave grades of A or B, up from 71% in 1985.)
Americans, of all demographic groups, mostly support charter schools or have neutral feelings about them. According to a 2010 Harvard University / Education Next poll, 44% of Americans support charter schools and 36% hold a neutral stance. Among minorities, 64% of African-Americans and 47% of Hispanics expressed clear support for charter schools. The ratio of supporters of charter schools has grown steadily over the past decade, according to 2010 Phi Delta Kappa / Gallup Poll numbers – from 42% in 2000 to 68% in 2010.
Teacher Evaluation and Pay
The American citizenry supports paying teachers based on their students’ academic achievement. 73% of 2010 PDK / Gallup Poll respondents believe that teacher compensation should be either ‘very closely’ or ‘somewhat closely’ tied to student achievement. The percentage of public school parents who express those opinions is even higher, at 75%.
The Federal Government’s Role in Public Education
Most Americans want an influential role for the federal government in K-12 education. When asked what level of involvement the federal government should have in public education, 63% of respondents to an August 2010 Gallup poll expressed that the feds should keep the same level of involvement or increase their involvement.
Arguing on behalf of democratic decision making means accepting that the public might disagree with your principles and policy recommendations, or even completely reverse its opinions from time-to-time. Presently, democracy doesn’t seem to favor many of the concrete education policies put forward by SOS marchers.
Note: Gauging public opinion is a complex endeavor, but I attempted to select sources of public opinion that are widely respected and trusted. I should also emphasize that my own views on education policy are not necessarily always aligned with the public’s, and are often much more nuanced than the opinions that polls allow to be recorded.