OPINION: Org alleges poll questions are biased against charter schools

Center for Education Reform's logoJeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, has issued the following statements:

Reports by news outlets today (Aug. 15), including Politico and the Associated Press, about the latest Education Next poll have it wrong. The poll does not show a drop in public support for charter schools; it shows a drop in support for the word “charters.”

When respondents were asked the generic, undefined question, “Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?” the numbers dipped, but when the question included a definition of charter schools, there was no drop in support for charter schools from the general public or parents. Their support remained at 51 percent and 52 percent respectively – exactly what it was in 2015.

The defined question reads: “As you may know, many states permit the formation of charters schools, which are publicly funded but not managed by the local school board. These schools are expected to meet promised objectives, but are exempt from many state regulation. Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?”

When asked this way, not only did support remain constant for parents and the general public, there were slight increases in support for charter schools from teachers — up from 39 percent to 41 percent; among African American – up from 45 percent to 46 percent; and, among Democrats — up from 42 percent to 45 percent. There was slight erosion of support among Hispanics, down from 48 percent to 44 percent, and Republicans, down from 62 percent to 60 percent.

Based on 15 years of polling on charter schools and other school reforms, when the question is asked with more clarity about what a charter school is, the numbers are dramatically higher. CER’s Survey of America’s Attitudes on School Reform issued annually until 2013 consistently showed support well above 70 percent, and highest for minorities and single mothers for charter schools, when defined as “public schools, free from most rules and regulations that apply to other public schools and open by choice.”

The definition is key; polls consistently show that the public is less than 50 percent knowledgeable about charter schools in general.

The Education Next survey is simply another in a series of surveys that tests the public’s knowledge. It revealed not waning support for charter schools, but a lack of support for the word “charter.” That, in itself, might merit investigation — most notably efforts by unions, school boards and the like to demonize the word.

The biggest takeaway from the Education Next poll is that despite concerted efforts to undermine the credibility of charter schools and their extraordinary impact on students nationwide, public support has remained steady, and, we believe, will continue so, as long as the public education system continues to offer a 19th century model of schooling which nets barely passable results for most students.

Founded in 1993, the Center for Education Reform aims to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans — particularly our youth — thus ensuring that conditions are ripe for innovation, freedom, and flexibility throughout U.S. education.

For more information, contact Tim Sullivan at (202) 750-0016 or tim@edreform.com.