In 2022, we at EdChoice mark the 10th year of the Schooling in America (SIA) survey, our annual national poll of the general public and parents of school-age children in collaboration with Braun Research.
A lot has happened in the last decade. We have seen three presidential administrations, a pandemic, and record numbers of school choice programs, just to name a few changes.
We have asked several questions every year. Most notably for our mission, we always ask Americans about school choice. We also devote part of each year’s SIA to new questions that deepen our understanding of Americans’ perspective on the K–12 education system. This year, given the decisions districts are making about federal pandemic-related aid and the perennial debates around school finance, we included questions about education funding and spending. To see other one-off questions we previously included in our SIA series, you can check out summaries for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.
From April 7 to May 16, we surveyed the general public and parents of school-age children. We oversampled the latter population and had sample size targets for African American and Latino current school parents. As a result, we obtained nationally representative samples of American adults (N = 1,200) and current school parents (N = 1,200).
A point of clarification before continuing—those who follow our monthly polling in collaboration with Morning Consult may wonder how SIA differs from our monthly polling via the EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker.
Questions in our monthly tracking poll tend to vary more in an effort to track sentiment about pertinent K–12 issues each month. SIA’s narrowed scope allows us to delve deeper into our priority issues. Additionally, our monthly polling with Morning Consult uses a single mode (online), whereas SIA employs a mixed-methods approach using both online and phone. Two surveys with slightly differing methodologies conducted by different survey research partners allows us to have a more holistic assessment of common topics and questions found in both surveys.
Now, here are the top 10 findings for the 10th year of Schooling in America.
1. Parents and the general population are trending in different directions when it comes to positivity about the direction of K–12 education.
After a jump in positivity about the overall direction of education in the United States in 2021, sentiment has returned to reflect levels seen in 2020. The share of people who think K–12 education is heading in the wrong direction rose eight percentage points from 2021 to 2022, while the share that think it is heading in the right direction dropped by the same amount.
Parents, on the other hand, grew more optimistic about the direction of K–12 education compared to last year, rising four percentage points. This is the most optimistic parents have been on this question. Consistent with previous SIA surveys and our monthly public opinion tracker, parents are more likely to think that K–12 education is heading in the right direction than the general public, but they are still more likely to think it is heading in the wrong direction. Homeschooling parents are the most pessimistic about K–12 education in the United States, while private school parents are the most positive.
2. Parents want K–12 funding to follow the student.
We asked respondents how supportive they would be of a “unified system of K–12 funding where dollars follow students to the educational setting of their family’s choosing.” We contrasted this hypothetical with the currently dominant form of education funding, where some funds are based on students and some funds are based on various non-student factors like perceived resource or staffing needs. After being presented with these two scenarios, parents were substantially more likely to favor the funding reform that allowed money to follow students to their education setting of choice, with 71 percent supporting and 15 percent opposing.
3. Sentiment toward charter schools among the general population has improved substantially over the last two years.
In 2021, a record share of parents gave charter schools an A or B grade (59%), and in 2022, that number grew even further (62%). While public district schools also saw more high grades in 2022 than 2021, this is the second consecutive year charter schools have received more A or B grades from the parents than public district schools. Private schools remain the school type with the most A or B grades at 72 percent in 2022, as has been the case each year of the Schooling in America survey besides 2018. Private schools saw a large jump in positivity in 2020, and while the share of grades that are A or B have slightly declined since, the overall shift in positivity has remained consistent. Compared to parents, the general public are more negative about traditional public schools and more positive about private schools.
4. Families point to a variety of reasons for choosing their school type.
Parents were asked to rank the top three factors contributing most to their decision regarding what school type they chose for their children. Relative to other parents, parents of district school students were substantially more likely to name locational convenience and district assignment as a top factor in selecting their children’s school. Charter school and private school parents had fairly similar distributions, with both groups naming academic reputation as a top deciding factor more often than any other reason. There was a broad distribution of top three selections across 14 general categories, however.
The frequency with which a given factor was named was somewhat associated with the school type a parent ultimately chose. Charter school parents were somewhat more likely to name locational convenience than private school parents, however, and private school parents were more likely to name values instruction than charter school parents. Homeschool parents named a safe environment and individualized attention noticeably more than other parent groups.
5. More people say they have heard of ESAs.
The share of people who said they had never heard of education savings accounts (ESAs) declined two percentage points from 2021 to 2022, dropping from 33 percent of all respondents to 31 percent. This trend may be particularly notable given this SIA sample saw no change in the share of respondents who already knew about vouchers, and this 2022 group also was more likely to have not heard of charter schools compared to 2021.
ESAs remain very popular with the general public, with more than three-quarters indicating support. This survey is the second consecutive SIA to fail to match the peak of ESA support in 2020. While total opposition is unchanged, the share of people expressing they “don’t know” or have “no opinion” on ESAs is the highest it has been since 2018. One possible reason for these trends could be anchoring bias. People tend to rely heavily upon the first information or impression they receive about something, so if someone first sees negative or mixed publicity about ESAs, they might be less willing to commit support in the survey.
That said, presenting people with a basic definition of what ESAs are had a substantial impact on people’s support of ESAs. Learning what an ESA is increased support among the general population by 24 percentage points and 20 points among parents.
Ultimately, though, the year-over-year changes are small and within the margin of error. The most important takeaway remains that Americans overwhelmingly support ESAs, more so than any other school choice policy presented.
6. By both margin and intensity, parents are very favorable toward all school choice policies presented.
About four out of five parents support ESAs and TCSs, and about three out of four support vouchers and charter schools. Notably, the share of parents who “strongly favor” each of these school choice policies significantly outweigh those who “strongly oppose” them. For ESAs, district school parents and homeschool parents favor ESAs to similar degrees, but the intensity (strong favor minus strong opposition) among homeschool parents was substantially higher than that of district school parents. The margin of support (total favor minus total opposition) is higher among private school parents than homeschool parents, but the intensity of support from homeschool parents is still higher than that of private school parents.
Homeschool parents’ high intensity of support holds for vouchers as well. Despite having a lower margin of support than other groups, their intensity is highest.
7. Americans are split on two key teacher compensation policies.
The 2022 iteration of the Schooling in America Survey added several new questions. Two of these new questions related to preferences about how teachers are paid. First, we asked whether they preferred teachers to receive higher salaries in exchange for handling higher class sizes, or if they preferred teachers to have smaller class sizes but be paid lower salaries. Both parents and the general population were slightly more likely to prefer higher class sizes and higher salaries, at 53 and 54 percent respectively.
We then asked if teachers should be paid according to predetermined salary schedules, with salaries determined by experience and credentials, or if schools should pay teachers according to the market value of their skills and knowledge. Slightly over half of respondents preferred the currently dominant system of salary schedules.
8. Parents are less likely to think class sizes are too big when shown the actual average class size.
When we asked parents their perspectives on class sizes, we randomized whether they first learned the average class size in their state. Of the group that did not see the actual average class size in their state, a little over two-thirds (43%) thought class sizes were too large, though they were most likely to say class sizes were about right (50%). Those that saw the actual average class size for their state were 12 percentage points less likely to say class sizes in their state were too big (31%).
For context, here are the average class sizes in each state according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (NCES defines self-contained classes as instruction to the same group of students all or most of the day in multiple subjects, and departmentalized instruction is defined as instruction to several classes of different students most or all of the day in one or more subjects.)
|Average class size for teachers in self-contained classes
|Average class size for teachers in departmentalized instruction
|District of Columbia
9. Americans believe wealthy districts receive more total funding than poorer districts.
We designed two statements and randomized which a respondent would see. One statement suggested that wealthy school districts receive significantly more revenue than poorer districts. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of people who saw this statement agreed with it, and only 18 percent disagreed. Conversely, the other statement suggested poorer districts receive significantly more funding than wealthy districts. Respondents were much more likely to disagree with this statement than agree with it (47% and 27%, respectively). Notably, respondents were substantially more likely to say that they did not know the answer, or skip the answer entirely, to the statement suggesting poorer districts receive more money than wealthy districts.
10. Parents and the general population disagree about whether education funds are spent effectively.
Taking all the SIA survey respondents into account, people are about twice as likely to believe that K–12 education dollars are spent ineffectively than effectively (30% and 16%, respectively). Parents, on the other hand, were more optimistic. Twenty-eight percent of parents thought education funds are spent effectively, compared to 26 percent who thought education spending was ineffective.
See all of the new interactive charts, the full report, questionnaire and toplines, and methodology and data sources on our Schooling in America Polling Dashboard.