Getting a read on the American public’s views on education is no easy task, made more complicated by just how much local schools vary. In a country with more than 13,000 school districts that enroll nearly 50 million students, a range of experiences and perspectives are to be expected.
According to two polls released this month by different organizations, U.S. adults maintain divergent views on some of the most controversial topics in public education today. For both policymakers and political candidates, the poll results at times say conflicting things, even if the questions were worded differently.
Common Core: In the Education Next public opinion poll, 49 percent of U.S. adults said they support the Common Core State Standards; in the other poll, conducted by PDK/Gallup, 24 percent of adults share that view, while more than half said they oppose the common standards for English language arts and mathematics adopted by most states.
Testing: 59 percent of adults, and 52 percent of parents, opposed allowing parents to prevent their children from taking standardized tests, the Education Next poll finds. It said 25 percent of U.S. adults support the ability to opt out. The PDK/Gallup poll shows that 44 percent of U.S. adults—and 40 percent of parents—believe that parents should be permitted to opt their students out of standardized tests. And parents surveyed by PDK/Gallup were more likely to support the practice than in the Education Next poll by a margin of 47 to 32 percent.
Charter Schools: The polls captured different levels of support for charter schools among U.S. adults. Charters, which are publicly funded but are typically run by private nonprofit or for-profit groups, have the support of 64 percent of adults, according to PDK/Gallup. The Education Next poll found that 47 percent of adults favor the creation of charter schools.
It’s important to remember that polls are like “dipping a thermometer into a giant melting pot of American society,” says Jonathan Supovitz, the co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. “You’re bound to get different readings in different places.”