Ep. 181: EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker

May 19, 2020

We discuss the goals of our new EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker, along with some of the data you’ll find⁠—including COVID-19 teacher survey results.

Drew Catt: Hello, and welcome to another episode of EdChoice Chats. I’m Drew Catt, EdChoice’s director of state research and special projects. And I’m here to talk about the EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker. I’m here today with Paul DiPerna, EdChoice’s vice president of research and innovation, who heads up the polling project, and Mike McShane, EdChoice’s director of national research. Thanks for joining me today, Paul and Mike.

Paul DiPerna: It’s great to be here. Thanks.

Mike McShane: Great to be with you, buddy.

Drew Catt: So, Paul, would you mind starting us off by talking about why we started doing this polling project?

Paul DiPerna: Sure. Yeah, so we’ve been doing polling for a long time, more than a decade. And so first, we kind of started to do some state polling and then we branched out and we did some more national polling around 2012. And we’ve been producing the Schooling in America report every year, and that’s been an annual snapshot of where the general public and school parents, and more recently we’ve been polling teachers as well, where they stand on K-12 education issues, school choice issues and other topics of the day. And last fall, we were talking as a team and thinking that it would be great to have a more regular reading of the public opinion around education issues. And that was really a void truthfully regular periodic polling on a regular basis, looking at trends over time.

And so, there’s been great work from PDK for a long time, they’ve been doing their annual poll for about 50 years. And then EdNext has been doing their annual poll for more than a decade. We’ve been doing ours for about eight years. And then there are these other one-offs, but we thought that we could maybe make a contribution, hopefully inform the public debate and conversation around schooling issues and school choice issues in K-12 if we did a more regular poll. And so we talked with Morning Consult about doing a monthly tracking poll. And so this past January, we launched this project with Morning Consult, who’s a survey polling company and data intelligence firm who has done a lot of work around consumer branding, consumer survey research, political polling, and so they’re helping us conduct this monthly tracking poll around K-12 education. And so we launched in January and we’re doing this on a monthly basis now.

And I’d say our purpose for doing this as a least four fold. I mean, we want to really provide more timely analysis of public opinion around K-12 issues and really timely K-12 issues. Current developments, current events around K-12 more so than we can do in our Schooling in America survey. We also want to deliver state-level public opinion estimates, and a rating of where the public stands at the state level and where school parents at the state level. And that’s something that really hasn’t been done before, where we can see where the states are in terms of public opinion on these different issues, asking the same questions at the same time. Is that something that we see as something novel and new, that we can hopefully bring to decision makers and other policymakers around education? And then we hope to provide a lot of data and cross tabs information around the polls for researchers, even journalists who really want to take a deep dive and look at certain demographics.

And so hopefully, I mean, that’s something we would love to have this data be a resource for others to do their own work. Whether it’s reporting, tying into news stories and tying into developing stories and the news media, or if it’s asking larger research questions. And then finally we hope that this can just lead to more conversations and interactions with people and organizations that we don’t interact with right now regularly. And so we hope to do more briefings, webinars, round tables around the country around probably virtually for the near future, but to be able to talk about this polling information that we’ll be providing on our new public opinion tracker website.

Drew Catt: Wow. That is going to be, and already is, a wealth of information and data. And I’m really interested to see how the differences in states shake out. I mean, having just recently conducted state voter polls for Ohio and Pennsylvania—check out our website for those briefs—there’s definitely some differences. Now Paul, so comparing those like state voter polls that EdChoice has done in the past with Schooling in America poll to even like the EdNext poll that you mentioned, how is the methodology for this survey the same, or how was it different? And also are the questions going to be the same each month?

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, those are great questions. So, to start with your last question, for the most part, continue to ask the same questions month to month, but we expect with just coronavirus pandemic and the questions we’ve developed and started asking around the pandemic are a good example of this, where we want them to be responsive on a monthly basis. So, I would say probably 80-90 percent of the questionnaire will be consistently the same month to month and then leaving some room to swap out, replace, adjust some questions, to be responsive to what’s happening just in the news and current events. So, it will be consistent looking at trends with the results on a lot of the same questions month to month. And then in terms of the methods and like how we differ from Schooling in America, our other annual survey of the general public and other survey initiatives by EdNext and PDK, our questions will be very different in terms of their wording.

We touch on a lot of similar topics, but we do take different approaches in terms of wording, framing, response, options and scaling. The folks who are taking the surveys, how they can answer. And then another distinction is that our survey with Morning Consult, it is a non-probability survey. And so that’s something that will be a little bit different than what PDK has been doing in EdNext, but it’s something that more and more with so much change in the survey research industry, more and more people are recognizing that non-probability sampling has been as effective in many cases, especially looking at its election polling as probability driven and probability based surveys.

And so that’s probably one key distinction. And then I think another one is that we also are really focused on school parent responses as a group. And that’s something that differs a little bit from EdNext and more so from probably with PDK, and we are also serving teachers on a quarterly basis. So, we’ll be able to draw contrast among teachers looking at charter school teachers, public school, district teachers, and private school teachers, which is something that we don’t see in some of the other previous polling. And so we’re hoping that this will bring some new knowledge, some new information to the public conversation out there.

Drew Catt: And as a great line from my childhood, knowledge is power. So, let’s start talking about the results with those related to COVID-19. Now Mike, you’ve been talking to a lot of private school leaders about how their school is responding. What did you think of the teacher results from the quarterly teacher sample to the COVID-19 questions and also like kind of the most recent general public results from April. Does any of this line up with what you’ve been gleaning from your private school leader interviews?

Mike McShane: The single most interesting stat that I saw was the percentage of parents that are concerned about their children getting the coronavirus at school. That was… 47 percent of surveyed, parents said that they were very concerned, another 19 percent were at least somewhat concerned, vastly dwarfing those that were not concerned or didn’t have an opinion. They were more concerned with that than their children missing instructional time, more concerned than them missing other activities, more concerned about them missing their own work, more concerned about that than anything. And I think that that has really serious implications as we look to any sort of plan to talk about reopening schools. If families are still this concerned come the fall, then this could pose serious problems, even if schools say, “Hey, look, we want to reopen.” If parents are that afraid of having their kids catch the coronavirus, then I think that that’s something that’s definitely going to be a problem, right?

Now, when it comes to the teacher responses, I was fascinated to see the percentages of teachers who felt prepared for school closures and for online learning. So, about a quarter of teachers said that they felt very prepared to transition to online learning and another 40 percent felt somewhat prepared. And these proportions roughly match parents in total, but there were more parents who thought that they were very prepared and slightly fewer who thought that they were somewhat prepared. And so seeing that disconnect between parents and teachers is interesting, but the fundamental teacher numbers, I think generally jive with what a lot of folks have been seeing.

There are about this quarter of schools that have either already been going to one-to-one devices or they’ve been using e-learning days, or they figured out ways around snow days or other things to use e-learning. So. that 25 percent, or 26 percent in this case, of teachers was really prepared. And I think it was somewhat heartening to see another 40 percent there were at least somewhat prepared. That makes me think they’ve been able to at least make some steps in making this transition scale up. Now that does say that there are still about a third of teachers who were not that prepared, not at all prepared for dealing with this. And if you see this as a representative sample of teachers, I mean, that’s a third of American teachers, a third of American school children is tens of millions, millions of millions of kids that we need to be thinking about. So, I think in both of those cases, hopefully policy makers can look at these things. School leaders can look at these things and see where we stand.

Drew Catt: Yeah. The whole fear thing is striking to me. I mean, I’ve thought a lot here over the last month about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—and the food insecurity and shelter being at that lower, lower level of the pyramid. But then that second level was really, to rise above that, is that freedom from fear. And it seems like a lot of parents, and assumedly a lot of students, are struggling with that right now. And really how are we as a nation going to help them to notch up to that third level and really start to have the mental capacity and really social fiscal capacity to be able to better apply themselves in the classroom. Yeah. It’s definitely a hard challenge and I do not envy those that are trying to figure it out right now.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah. Just to follow up with both what Mike was saying and Drew, you too, how folks are responding or maybe being affected by the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s affecting schools. Something that really stood out to me and the results, and this is one of the trends is following those who think that K-12 education is going in the right direction. So, looking at that proportion. And so we started asking that question in January and it’s been going up for both how they view the school district locally, how they see education in their state and then also how they see education nationally. So, it’s been kind of interesting that there might be this kind of like rallying around their local institutions or just in their schools, but there has been an increased positive sentiment about K-12 from January to April. And so that’s one thing that was interesting to see.

And then I also saw in some of the results, also this trend of how people see teacher pay and if they feel that teachers should be they’re paid about the same, or if they should get an increase or a decrease. And we do an experiment where we split the sample half, get just a general question and the other half actually get the average teacher salary and their own state to see if that information affects their opinions. And so what we’ve seen for both versions that we’ve seen that folks, especially since February have seen the teachers should be paid more.

And so, and this is more speculation on my part and probably for some other either researchers or journalists to do some more digging deeply, but it kind of suggests that folks are appreciating the role and the importance and the work that teachers are doing. And it could be in some shape or form either from parents now having to do some e-learning at home and an instruction and then facilitating instruction at home, or just what we were seeing on the news and the news stories about how educators are trying to meet the needs of the students. And so those are some other kinds of COVID-related trends that something that we should be keeping our eyes on in the next few months.

Drew Catt: Yeah, that last one is definitely one that resonates a little with me. I know, yeah, this is just anecdotally, but my wife being a high school teacher at a large public high school, one sister-in-law small private school, elementary teacher, another sister-in-law elementary public school, aunt that’s a public high school English teacher, all of them are saying that their job is significantly harder now. So, it’s not only that in my opinion, but parents and others are seeing how much teachers already have to work. But I would say that teachers in general are probably working harder than they were before all of this. It’s just interesting to think of. So Mike, let’s keep polling this teacher thread. As a former classroom teacher yourself, what did you think of the results of teachers recommending their occupation to others and who they really feel supports them?

Mike McShane: Yeah. So, I think it’s really interesting that we’re using the net promoter score, which is something that we’re seeing in lots of businesses use it. It seems like every time I shop at Home Depot or something, I get an email afterwards asking me to use some sort of net promoter score questions. So, it asks those questions of rating your experience from one to 10, but then it also asks that question of how likely is it that you would recommend whatever this service staying at this hotel, shopping at this place, whatever.

So, we asked a version of that by saying, how likely is it that you would recommend teaching to a friend or family member? And when you look at all teachers about 37 percent are rated as promoters. And that means they would give on a scale of one to 10, nine out of 10, and about 31 percent are detractors, or have zero to six. So, a net promoter score of six, which isn’t great, but it’s not underwater. There are more people who were sort promoters of teaching than detractors. But fascinatingly broken down by district versus charter versus private, district school teachers are underwater. There are more detractors than there are promoters. Only 30 percent of traditional public school district teachers would be highly likely to recommend teaching to a friend; 34 percent would be detractors. But charter school teachers, it’s 43 to 28, which is a net promoter score of 15, and private school teachers, it’s 54 percent promoters to only 22 percent detractors, a net promoter score of 32.

So, it’s really interesting to see that spread across the different school sectors. It gives us at least a first look that it seems like lots of private school teachers are much happier to be teaching in their private school, then their district counterparts and charter school teachers fall somewhere in the middle. Now that sort of is interesting in the context of some other questions that we asked around who teachers feel supported by. So, we asked, do you feel supported by other teachers, by your principal, by parents, local community, local superintendent, school board, state government. And if you look, teachers feel most supported by other teachers, by their principals, by parents, by the local community. And it really starts to drop off when you look at superintendents, school boards, and the bottom two are the state government and federal government. So, that could help us in our understanding of why some traditional public school teachers are less likely to be promoters than private school teachers are, because they have much more interaction with things like school boards, state, government and the federal government, which they’re much more likely to say are not supporting them.

Drew Catt: Yeah. And so personally, I wasn’t that surprised by the district school teachers having the negative net promoter score, and Paul, as you well know, from our Schooling in America project, we’ve kind of seen that over the last couple of years, but yeah, it was great to see the sample size large enough to really break off the charter school and private school teachers.

Paul DiPerna:  Yeah. And just to follow up on that, just for context for listeners out there. So, roughly on a quarterly basis, we’re surveying teachers on a quarterly basis, these teacher results are from late March just for that context. And then the sample size will be roughly about 700 public school teachers that traditional public school teachers and about 200 private school teachers and roughly around a little bit more than 100 public charter school teachers just for that context.

Drew Catt: Well, that’s great. So, all right. I personally think one of the most interesting questions that we have so far, not related to COVID at least, is what do you believe it should be the main purpose of education during kindergarten through eighth grade/high school. So, it turns out that people have different opinions of what K students should be getting out of their education and what high schoolers should be getting out of their education. What did y’all make of those results?

Mike McShane: Well, I think it’s wild, right? In grades K-8, the number one response, this is based on how many people rated it, extremely important, was core academic subjects, which I think like all of us would think like, yeah, sure, that’s in there. But interestingly only 56 percent of respondents said that that was extremely important. The next highest was 48 percent for socialization, then become independent thinkers comes in at 46 percet, how to be good citizens, and it goes down sort of in the 40s skills for future employment, values, moral character, religious values. And finally about a quarter of respondents said, K-8 goal should be to fix social problems. But even within that area, you see some divergence, right? It’s not 90 percent of people say core academic subjects. It’s not 80 percent of people say socialization. So clearly, even within people who are looking at K-8 education, we see a diversity of views and the main purpose.

Then you compare that to grades 9-12, the rank ordering is completely different, right? So K-8, the top three are core academic subjects, socialization, and then becoming independent thinkers. Well, nine through 12, number one by far at 62 percent, is skills for future employment, then become independent thinkers comes in second at 56 percent tied with core academic subjects. Then it goes down to how to be a good citizen and down to socialization is the—let me see one, two, three, four—fifth, it goes from second to fifth between them. So, I think this is something that we really tend to think about because we think of schooling as this kind of monolithic institution. We talk about what are the goals of education what’s its purpose, but all adults are seeing differences between those. So, maybe the goals of elementary school and middle school are different than the goals of high school. So, we have to be even more careful when we talk about this stuff to not only look at the variation that exists within individual groups, but between them as well.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think especially now as everybody is thinking about how do schools reopen in the fall. Is it going back to brick and mortar buildings entirely, or is it going to go a full online or some hybrid in between? And it seems to me, these results really do show, just to reinforce what you were saying, Mike, that making these distinctions between the K-8 elementary grades and the high schoolers matter, particularly when it comes to purpose and at what we would like those students to be learning and gaining from whether it’s being at school or if it’s online learning. And it’s interesting too to see that there’s this variation, some contrast between those grade spans and there’s variation of the purpose within those grade spans. But then even comparing the responses of teachers and the general public, there’s some differences there, too. Particularly in the elementary level, there are some different views where teachers put a little bit more value on it, becoming creative thinkers, whereas the general public are thinking more along the lines of, like you said Mike, core academic subjects and socialization.

Drew Catt: So, that’s more or less, so people want out of education, but who do they really trust when it comes to making the good decisions about education?

Mike McShane: So, it looks like from our survey results, adults trust teachers far and away, the highest ratings of people who dress a lot or some is teachers, parents come in second, pretty closely tied in with school principals. And then it goes down from there from superintendents to the state department of education, to the U.S. Department of Education and then school boards and then the state legislature. Which is actually, I found some really interesting variations in there. At first, as talked about in some of the earlier questions, my thought was that people would trust institutions less, the further away that they get from students. So it made sense to me like, well, teachers and parents are at the top and then principals and superintendents, but the state department of education and the U.S. Department of Education actually come before school boards.

So, your local school board is supposed to be this kind of local democratic representation of the things that you want out of schools, but it comes in second to last amongst all these institutions. And then in last place is your state legislature or your Governor. So, the two institutions that you actually have a say in—you get to vote for who’s on the school board, you get to vote for who’s in the state legislature who your governor is—come in below your state department of education, the U.S. Department of Education and your local superintendent, which generally speaking, you don’t have a lot of say in the management up. So, I was interested in that kind of variation. Paul, I don’t know if anything stood out for you there.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, along the same lines. I mean, it was interesting to see. And I think that we saw this, we asked a similar kind of question in our Schooling in America Survey. But to compare the trustworthiness of parents among the general public and then to compare that with what teachers say in parents are further down, what teachers say is trustworthy they’re further down the list there. And so yeah, going into this kind of question, you always think that, yeah, they’re closer in proximity or, the interactions, the relationships, the more trust there was likely to be. And I think that holds up to some degree, but it is interesting to see that state agencies and even the USDOE get a little bit more of a nod from the general public and school boards and the state legislature less so.

The other thing that stood out is that teachers are at the top for both, if you’re looking at the general public responses and the teacher responses in two thirds of teachers would say they put a lot of trust in other teachers and a little bit less so, it’s 52 percent of the general public respondents say that they put a lot of trust in teachers. But I mean on the net, I mean, I think that educators should be heartened by how valued are across the board by these different populations.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I think that’s especially interesting, I think compared to some previous focus group and polling research that parents don’t necessarily trust other parents. So, it’s great to hear the teachers trust other teachers. So, let’s wrap this up by looking at some of the questions many of you listening have come to expect from that choice polls, where would people ideally like to send their children to school? How do they feel about school choice policies and a school funding to low? Paul?

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, so there are a number of questions that we’ve carried over from the Schooling in America Survey, just to see how things may have changed since about six months ago when we did the SIA poll and then to be able to just do these month to month trend tracking. And so we see that similar findings that Americans do support school choice policies and reforms on net. And we see the plurality of support among those who are just given a very broad general question without any kind of description of the policy. And then once we do give them a description of what an education savings account is or what a school voucher program looks like, or what a charter school, how it operates, then we see a jump in support, some jumping off position too, but a much, much higher jump in support for those types of policies.

And that’s pretty consistent with what we’ve seen in Schooling in America. And also, I believe what EdNext has seen in their polling on school choice issues. And then on funding, we see that we do an experiment where we give them a general question about whether they believe school funding is too high, too low or about right. And then that goes to half the sample. And then the other half of the sample receives a statistic about per student spending in their own state. And so we see that, that piece of information just like we see in the SIA polling, that piece of information, that statistic has a dramatic effect on the too low response. And so people are much less likely to say too low when they’re given that information and that’s pretty consistent across the states. And so people can see this, too.

So, on our tracker website, we have a national dashboard, but then they can also go and there’s a map where they can locate their state and click on it and then go and see what the state-level responses are. And we put a caution on there that we’re doing a rolling cumulative average so we’re adding on responses each month until we hit 12 months, and it will be a 12-month rolling average. The sample sizes right now for some states are going to be pretty low. And so we’d caution when you see the samples below a hundred respondents, then we will always advise caution on how to interpret these results. But for those that are above a hundred responses, I mean, looking at the school funding questions, and we also ask about teacher pay like we do in our SIA polling, and people can learn those results on the state dashboards as well.

a Yeah. And I was really interested in the questions about where people would send their kids to school. We asked this question that says, “If given the option, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child?” And amongst all adults, about 35 percent said that they would choose a private school. Thirty-two percent would choose in public school; 10 percent would home-school; and 6 percent would send their kids to a charter school. Another 17 percent didn’t necessarily know. One of the things that I found really interesting was when you ask parents, parents are slightly more likely than the general public to say that they would send their children to a regular public school, but teachers are more likely to want to say that they would send their kids to a private school. So, if you look at all adults, 35 percent say that they would send their kids to a private school amongst parents, it’s only 30 percent, but amongst teachers, it’s 37 percent.

When you look at who would send their children to a regular public school, teachers are much more likely to do that. That they’re at like 45 percent versus all adults at 32 percent. But the other difference that they have is that they are much more likely to say that they would home-school their own kids. So, while all adults in school, parents, about 10 percent of respondents say that they would home-school their kids, if they could only 5 percent of teachers would. So, it’s really interesting to me that teachers are more likely to say that they would send their kids to private school and actually more likely to say that they would send their kids to public schools and where you find those numbers is that they’re way less likely to say that they would home-school their own children.

I think it will be interesting as we track these numbers over time, as families have more of an experience with quasi homeschooling their children to see if those change over time, because that 10 percent number has been relatively constant with the Schooling in America Survey that we’ve done for a while. So, we’ll see how those numbers change over time, but definitely something worth following.

Drew Catt: And as a former homeschooler myself, I would definitely like to point out that while you do call it quasi-homeschooling, that parents are at this point not making the curricular decisions. And that’s a big part of actual homeschooling. So, I wonder how many parents are thinking about that when they do talk about homeschooling.

Paul DiPerna: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s a good point. And just to follow up with both of you, I brought up on the homeschooling piece, I mean, that is something that as an organization EdChoice, we know we’re planning to explore this in some more depth with some future polling, whether on the tracker or on the schooling in America survey later this year. And so that’s something that we, just to see if this current shift to u-learning or distance learning, if that translates into a greater propensity to do their own homeschooling, where they do have more control over their curriculum and instruction for their children. So, something that be interesting to see definitely.

Drew Catt: Well, I think that about covers it for this first podcast. Looking at the EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker. Stay tuned for updates to the website on the first Tuesday of each month, you can find it at edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. And I look forward to the next podcast talking about the results. Thanks for joining me, Paul and Mike.

Mike McShane: Thanks for having us.

Paul DiPerna: Thanks. Yeah, it’s been fun.

Drew Catt: Well, our thoughts are with all of you listening and I highly recommend you all go read the post up on our blog titled, supporting kids’ mental and emotional health while schools are closed. And a lot of the points in it will, I’m assuming, also hold true for many of you through the summer months as well. To stay updated on the latest school choice, polling research, legislative news, and more, please remember to subscribe to our EdChoice Chats podcast wherever you get your podcasts. For more of our coverage of new school choice research, education reform policy chats, and more. If social media’s more your thing, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can find us @edchoice. Thanks again for listening. And until next time, stay safe and take care.