National poll supports public school choice and reduced reliance on testing / Joe Nathan’s Column

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The 47th annual national Gallup-Phi Delta Kappa poll demonstrates how public and public school parents have fascinating, often complicated, views about public education.

Among other things, the poll reports widespread concerns about an overemphasis on tests, mixed views on “opting out” of testing and strong support for public school choice. The survey, done by Phi Delta Kappa International, a national education group and the respected Gallup organization, was released Aug. 23.  It has become part of the nation’s “back to school tradition.”

PDK presented results with the headline, “Testing doesn’t measure up for Americans.” But the actual responses show a more complicated picture.

For example:
-Regarding testing, 64 percent of the public and 67 percent of public school parents think there is “too much emphasis on standardized testing in the public schools” in their communities, compared to 19 percent of the public nationally, and 20 percent of public school parents, who think there is “about the right amount.”
-However, on whether “all parents with children in the public schools should be allowed to excuse their children from taking one or more tests,” there is a significant split: an estimated 44 percent of the public say no and 41 percent say yes. Among public school parents, 47 percent say yes, 40 percent say no. Furthermore, 59 percent of public school parents said they would not excuse their own child from one or more tests, while 75 percent of African-Americans, 65 percent of Hispanics, and 54 percent of whites said they would not excuse their own child.

So about two-thirds of Americans think there is an overemphasis on standardized tests. But both the public and public school parents are split on whether families should “opt-out.” Most would not do it themselves.

The majority, and vast majority of African-American and Hispanic parents, would not excuse their children from testing. They want to know how their youngsters are doing.

They also recognize, I think wisely, that there are other important ways to assess how well students are doing in school.

Part of the poll discusses charter public schools and public school choice:
-64 percent “favor” the idea of charter schools. That’s up one percent from 2014. Another 25 percent oppose the charter idea, down from 31 percent in 2014.
-66 percent of public school parents are in favor of the charter idea.  That’s up from 55 percent in 2014. Opposition to the charter idea among public school parents has declined from 33 percent in 2014 to 27 percent in 2015.
-64 percent of Americans, and 67 percent of public school parents, favor the idea of allowing students and their parents “to choose which public schools in their community the students attend, regardless of where they live.”
-Of 11 options presented, public school parents say the three most important factors they use in selecting a school are “quality of the teachers, curriculum (i.e., the courses offered) and the maintenance of student discipline.”
-On a controversial question regarding taxes, only 31 percent of the public and 33 percent of public school parents favor the idea of using tax funds to support enrollment of students at a private school.  This approach has been called “only 31.” Voucher advocates say the way the question is asked encourages a negative answer.

This poll suggests there is twice as much support for public school choice, including charter public schools, as there is for using tax funds to support enrollment in private schools.

The poll includes more than two-dozen questions. In addition to what’s discussed above, questions ask, for example, about vaccinations (which more than 80 percent believe should be required before students enter public schools), use of standardized tests to help assess teachers (which the majority oppose), Common Core standards, public ratings of local schools and the biggest problems in public education.

PDK’s presentation of poll results also includes comments from five mothers, most of whom have concerns about testing.

Gallup and PDK report that the findings came from a “nationally representative web survey of 3,499 Americans, ages 18 and older with Internet access and an additional telephone survey of 1,001 Americans, ages 18 and older.” Poll results are available here:

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.