Ep. 197: Monthly Tracker Results – June 2020

July 31, 2020

In this episode, we share key takeaways from last month’s EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker polling waves.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome to another edition of EdChoice Chats. I’m Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice. I am joined today by Paul DiPerna, vice president of research here at EdChoice, and Drew Catt, the director of state research and special projects.

We are talking about our EdChoice tracker public opinion survey. Now some of you may have heard our earlier versions of this podcast as we release these results periodically and hop on the horn to talk about them. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the project in general, we have partnered with Morning Consult, a polling firm, to poll a representative sample of Americans every month. We use an online polling strategy and use the magic that Morning Consult is able to do to ask them a big battery of questions, both about some general things around education policy, school choice, school funding, teacher policy, etc. But then because of the sort of periodic nature of it, we also have the opportunity to ask questions about issues of import in the events of the day.

We are pairing that sampling strategy every quarter with a nationally representative sample of teachers. So we are talking today about the most recent iteration of these polls that were conducted in mid-June of the teachers we surveyed, a representative sample of a thousand teachers across the country. Asked them a whole battery of questions and the newest results of that have just been made available online recently.

If you go to edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com, you can get all of this research that’s out there. We have some great, easy summaries of it. We can see how it’s changed over time. If you go up in the resources section, you can download all the cross tabs and all this stuff that you numbers people love to allow you to get a better understanding of everything that’s going on.

So we’re just taking about 20 or 30 minutes today to talk about some of the top line results. Obviously, you all can dig in and we could spend all day talking about these things.

So I wanted to throw out to Paul and Drew just a couple of things that sort of stood out to me as I went through some of the slides that Morning Consult created. I’d love to hear your responses to them. So obviously when we look at current events, the coronavirus is at top of mind. This is a time where states, districts are talking about trying to reopen schools and weighing up the various trade-offs that are taking place with this.

There’s a slide in there that talks about parents’ concerns, what they’re worried about right now. Which as we might imagine, now as a time where there’s a lot of parental worrying happening. A slide reads that parents’ concerns have shifted towards children missing activities and meal supplements provided by schools and are slightly less concerned over their children contracting the virus.

So for example, when we do this split, the question asks, thinking about the coronavirus, how concerned are you about each of the following? So you can either be concerned, which is a sort of compilation of those who said that they were very or somewhat concerned, and not concerned, which for people who said that they were not that concerned or not at all concerned.

So, when it comes to students missing instructional time, 80 percent of parents are concerned and only 19 percent are not concerned. When it comes to cancellation of activities, it’s almost identical, where you have 79 percent are concerned, only 21 percent are not. Making up for free or reduced meals at home, 70 percent of parents are concerned about that. When we actually asked that question about getting exposed to the coronavirus at school, it’s now about 60/40. About 60 percent of parents are concerned about their child contracting the coronavirus at school and 38 percent are not.

So I’m interested in sort of your responses to that, because it would seem to me some of those things might shape the general opinion, the overall question that we have, of how we think about reopening schools this fall.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah. This has been a really interesting question that we’ve been asking since March. So right when the pandemic really started to hit and schools began to close and there were the transition to e-learning, we were able to include a battery of questions around COVID and how the general public, parents, and teachers feel the pandemic, how it’s affecting them at home, how it’s affecting the schools and the communities where they live. Findings have been pretty consistent monthly, where there has been this missed instruction time, it has been a top concern among parents and teachers as well.

So I think that, I mean, four out of five are saying that, and I think that really does force people to think about the nature of the instruction and to what extent can be accomplished online or remotely, which a lot of school districts just in the last few weeks have been reporting their back to school plans. A lot of the bigger, it seems like, more urban districts, are going the full virtual route, at least initially this school year.

Then we have other polling, not just our own, but others from Education Next, the American Enterprise Institute is teamed up with Echelon Insights, the Center for Reinventing Public Education had been surveying and looking at district websites and they’re reopening plans. They’re seeing just a lot of signals about the unevenness of instruction, especially online, and especially to the more vulnerable populations of students.

So I think that finding stands out as well as some of the other ones where it’s really just across the board, high levels of concern among the seven items that we ask about. So there is a tension, just a general like tension, that is being played out on the op ed pages and the other kind of news media reports that we’re seeing in online, as well as on TV news. So I think that this just appears they just kind of reinforce what we’re seeing out there being discussed and debated in the public domain.

Mike McShane: You know, it’s interesting, you mentioned some of those concerns and the reactions that parents have. So there’s two things I’d be interested in digging into in these results as well. So one additional question that we asked was how many parents are likely to enroll their children into e-learning programs when they go back to school in place of physically going back to school.

So the question reads, next school year, if your school or school district allowed for the option of e-learning instead of physically going back to school, how likely are you to enroll your child in e-learning or distance learning? This is a fascinating finding. Thirty-five percent, the single largest category of respondents, were very likely to choose e-learning. Another 34 percent were somewhat likely. So almost 70 percent, 69 percent, of respondents said either very or somewhat likely. Then when he goes down to not that likely, that’s only 15 percent of respondents, shrinking below that.

So Drew, I’d be interested in sort of your thoughts on what that means if we’re talking almost 70 percent of people when given the choice, right? We sort of let them think of it in their own minds of what these things might look like, and a huge majority seemed to say we want e-learning.

Drew Catt: Realistically, it makes me wonder about the last question, about the concerns. You said 35 percent would be very likely to do e-learning. Of that 35 percent, how many are saying that they’re not concerned or not at all concerned about their child getting exposed to coronavirus at school because they have zero intention whatsoever of their child physically going to the school?

Mike McShane: That’s a great point.

Drew Catt: There might be some back and forth with those two questions, and we might want to rethink kind of diving into those. Hey, if there are any researchers that are listening to this right now that are interested in that deep dive, hit us up, we might be able to connect you with some data sets. But yeah, so it’s really those two questions kind of connect in my mind, the concern with exposure at school versus the percent of parents that have either full intentions of home-schooling their child, or at least no intentions of physically sending them back to school.

Mike McShane: Yeah. Another potential reaction to this is homeschooling, right? So not even just using sort of the public sectors e-learning, but actually just keeping your kids home. So, another question was asked, how have your opinions on home schooling changed as a result of the coronavirus? Again, this is one of those interesting things that sort of as it was happening and depending on who you talk with in your sort of social circles that you run in, it was very, very common to hear people lamenting having to keep their kids at home and complaining.

You saw like the social media memes of like teachers should be paid a billion dollars, or any of those. But when we asked the question, so now what do you think about home schooling, in the sort of popular zeitgeist, you’d think, oh God, like 90 percent of people must be against homeschooling. Well, as it turns out in the sample that we asked, 25 percent of respondents said that they were more favorable to homeschooling as a result of the coronavirus, and 37 percent were somewhat more favorable to it. Again, the numbers get a lot smaller when you look at less favorable. So, the somewhat less favorable was only 15 percent and much less favorable was only 11 percent.

So we have this interesting e-learning component, but Paul I’d be interested in your thoughts, like what does this mean for home schooling?

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, I’m glad you pointed out the results or the different responses, because, I mean, it’s striking to see on the intensity, like on the extreme positions, there’s a net 14-point positive difference between the much more favorable and the much less favorable. That’s sizable. Then if you look at just the margin between the generally favorable and the generally less favorable, that’s 62 to 26 percent. So it’s a big gap of those having much more positive sentiment with homeschooling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re seeing this, too, in some other polling that’s just being released, and we have some more polling that we will release in coming weeks that will shed some more light on parents’ views on homeschooling, much like in this question.

I think it just has people thinking, what’s possible, maybe? This is a little bit suggestive and speculative on my part, but reading these stories about parents who are now like bringing together other parents in like co-ops, and I think we’re calling these now pods of students together, which is like another variation on homeschooling. Maybe parents, as they went through this experience in the spring months through the end of the school year, and maybe they’re a little bit more confident now and feel better about what kind of schooling at home is like.

People who were homeschooling in February and earlier probably wouldn’t call this necessarily home schooling. Maybe it’s more like remote schooling or some other type. But I think that there could be big implications this school year for sure. Appears to be, it’s going to be a very disruptive and volatile kind of school year, and maybe even beyond. With communications technologies where they are today, the capabilities for parents to do this and in creative and innovative ways, I think there just could be a lot of really interesting things that are tried out in the coming school year and probably shared online, and maybe some of these approaches that appear to be working well will catch and spread to other folks.

Drew Catt: I would definitely echo the point, Paul, about how those who were home-schooling in February may not see what some other parents have been doing over the last handful of months as home schooling. As a former home-schooler myself back in the ‘90s, we called them home-school groups. We met in our local church, and did field trips together, and had the interactive classroom experience together.

But, yeah, when you talk about technology and the leaps that technology is making especially in the realm of home schooling, like for fourth and fifth grade, I would receive VHS tapes in the mail, put them into the VCR, and get the homework packet in the mail and do all the homework packet alongside a asynchronous taped class, and do it that way. Now it’s much more interactive.

Students can be actually interacting in real time with other virtual or home-school students from around the world. You know, you don’t need to do a full actual family vacation trip to D.C. to learn about the nation’s history. There’s virtual reality for that now.
Yeah, talking about the technological advances, especially in the realm of home schooling, to anyone with a really good internet connection and a decent computer can pretty much go anywhere these days.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, and it’s been fascinating how sort of robust and resilient that statistic that we’ve been tracking has been over the course. One of the beauty of the longitudinal nature of the way that we surveyed these folks, so we have data from March, April, May and June. That question, how have your opinions on homeschooling changed? That percentage, much more favorable, has been basically rock solid. In March, it was 26 percent. In April, it was 28 percent. In May, it was 26 percent. In June, it’s 25 percent. So it’s basically been pretty solid. So it wasn’t like there was great enthusiasm that waned or that people learned over time. I think people, this seems to be a pretty resilient finding that we’ve had.

Mike McShane: Look, another finding that stood out to me that I think is really interesting, and I think plays into a lot of the debates and discussions that we’re having right now around school reopening, we asked it to both parents and teachers, and we can sort of go through each one for a second, but asking the question about levels of comfort with children returning to school.

So we ask the question, based on what you’ve seen, read, or heard about the coronavirus outbreak so far, how comfortable would you feel with your child or children returning to school in August or September? Interestingly, amongst parents, 57 percent said that they were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with having their children return to school in the fall. Only 26 percent were not that comfortable. Fourteen percent were not at all comfortable.

Now a sort of interesting comparison point that we have is comparing that to teachers. So we asked teachers the same question. Based on what you’ve seen, read, or heard about the coronavirus, how comfortable do you feel returning to school in August or September? What’s wild is the numbers are almost identical to one another. So, the very comfortable and somewhat comfortable, where it was 57 percent of parents were, 55 percent of teachers were. Even the next, that not that comfortable, while it was 26 percent of parents, it’s 27 percent of teachers.

So I would have actually expected a bigger disconnect between these two numbers, but there’s relative unanimity here in roughly the proportions of people who are comfortable with these things.

Now it is worth saying that 57 percent or 55 percent, while a comfortable majority if we’re talking about trying to win an election or like get a ballot measure passed, is a bit more challenging when we’re talking about all of the people in America and what it has to do with their schools. If we have 3.2 million teachers, or something like 55 million school children, even 43 percent of them or whatever the other side of those numbers are, we’re talking about tons and tons of people.

So that’s like when I first look at it, that’s what I see. But I’d love to know, Paul, when you look at that, what do you see?

Paul DiPerna: Yeah. I mean, those are great points. I mean, like on two levels. So like one about I think that the pollsters and researchers, we try to look for the variation and we’re looking for those gaps and differences, and that’s where the reportable findings tend to be, like what stands out. But like you said, though, I mean, I think it’s noteworthy with the similarities, and it appears to be this kind of shared feelings among current school parents and teachers about their comfort levels.

So we were talking about this recently. I mean, I think that a lot of the narrative and media reports, or just in social media—Twitter, Facebook—the impression at least I get is that the numbers should be different. What we’re seeing in our polling kind of flies against what the impressions and the signals we’re getting from Twitter and Facebook and other places like that, or even news reports about what’s happening in the local district, or even in some of the more national reporting we’ve seen in the last month or two. So I think that’s interesting.

Then, also, yeah, the percentages, we’re used to thinking in terms of like looking at majorities and like those big levels and how they play out, but the small numbers are still meaningful. So even looking at the roughly, it’s around 10 percent or 15 percent that are saying that they’re not at all comfortable about going back, if you try to extrapolate that to the population we’re observing, I mean, that’s a huge number. It’s millions of either students or tens or hundreds of thousands of teachers who are feeling that way. So that’s another way to kind of, and like you mentioned, Mike, I mean that would have certainly implications for policymakers and for folks who are trying to kind of develop and anticipate what might happen back to school this August and September.
So I think, yeah, I think those are really good points, and this is one that stood out to me as well.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Another one that I’d love to see an additional slice down of that data. Yeah, it’s anecdotal, but I have a sister-in-law that teaches third grade. She’s totally comfortable. There’s a bathroom in the classroom. She has total control of the students that aren’t really leaving her room at all, versus my wife who, as you both know, teaches at a large high school with over 5,000 students. As of now, based on the current plan, she would have 100 different students coming in and out of her room every single day, going across who knows what parts of the building.

There’s also that new study out of South Korea showing transmission levels of 10 to 19 versus younger.

So yeah, all that to say that, I really wonder if there are any differences if we split both the parents into K v. 9-12, and split the teachers in the K v. 9-12, if we will kind of see any shifts one way or another, or if even within those subpopulations, the numbers would still be similar of two to five saying that they would be not at all or not that comfortable.

Mike McShane: Yeah, no, that’s a great point. I think the idea of I think other ways of looking at this. Age of teacher, right? You know, so is it younger teachers who are more willing to want to come back versus older teachers? Age of student? So exactly what you brought up, teachers of younger children. And the regions, right? So is this an urban school? Is it a suburban school? Is it a rural school? Is it in a place that’s currently having some sort of coronavirus outbreak, or is it a place where it’s more under control? So a lot of those things are happening in the background there.

One thing, we did slice the data already in the what’s presented there, looking between unionized teachers and non-unionized teachers. Again, I think there’s perhaps a perception out there that’s, oh, probably unionized teachers would be more likely to not want to go back, or non-unionized teachers. It turns out, no, about the same. It looks like the percentages that are very comfortable are very close to one another, that are somewhat comfortable, they’re all very, very close to one another. They’re absolutely within spitting distance.

Drew Catt: A little wrinkle to that is that it’s possible that the union teachers feel like they have a little more say over whatever policy is happening at the district level. Whereas the non-union teachers may feel like they don’t have that direct connection where they don’t feel their voice is necessarily being heard by the district as much.

Mike McShane: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely.

Paul DiPerna: Yeah. I’m just jumping in real quick. I’m glad you guys brought this up, looking at some of these breakouts among the subgroups of teachers, or even of parents as well. Because, yeah, we didn’t see any differences. This is a little bit surprising to me that there was no real differences between union and non-union teachers on this question.

We did pick up on other questions that we might get into later, that there are some union, non-union differences on other types of questions that we posed to teachers. Even also by grade spans too.

This is just a side note to anyone listening and interested. Mike you’d mentioned the page where we have downloadable files and we have all the cross tabs for these polls. You can look at among the teachers, you can break out the results and see the results by how long they’ve been teaching and the grade spans that they are teaching and whether they’re union, non-union, and some other types of groupings. So I definitely encourage for those of you who really do like the wade into the numbers to go and check out some of the cross tabs that we have available on our website.

Mike McShane: Yeah, it’d be really interesting. So I’ve sort of highlighted the stuff that I found interesting in the slides and everything came out. But as you said, Paul, there’s a wealth of data that’s out there.

So I’d be curious, just from your perspective, were there particular data points or slides or presentations that stood out to you from this iteration of the tracker?

Paul DiPerna: Yeah, thanks, Mike. So there are some questions that we asked the teachers in our quarterly survey around retirement plans and about their mobility and where they were teaching, and I think that might be interesting. We broke them out by sector. So out of our thousand teachers that we survey quarterly, we’re able to obtain completed surveys from about 200 private school teachers, about 100 public charter school teachers, and then a little over 700 public district school teachers. We see some differences by sector when it comes to several of the questions on retirement plans and the influences that those plans might have on their movement and staying in their schools or looking elsewhere to teach.

I was talking with our Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Marty Lueken, who’s really an expert on teacher pension plans and the research around retirement plans for K-12 educators. He noted that there were a couple questions and findings that seem to be pretty interesting to him.

So he thought that looking at the question around how much has your retirement plan influenced your willingness to move or change jobs? We see that among charter school teachers, it appears that retirement plans, they’re more likely to be influenced when they move or change jobs. So, 43 percent of charter school teachers say that it’s very influential, and you compare that to 24 percent for district school teacher. So charter school teachers are almost twice as likely to say that those plans are influential for choosing jobs and willingness to move or change jobs. Private school teachers look a little bit more similar to district school teachers, at least on the extreme response, on the very influential response. So that seemed noteworthy of some sector differences.
Then another question along the lines of mobility, again. We asked how many different state public school districts have you worked for over your entire teaching career? It was clear, two thirds of the public school teachers said that they’ve taught in one state, and you compare that to 40 percent each of charter school teachers and private school teachers where it said just one state.

So we see that it appears that charter school teachers and private school teachers appear to be more mobile based on their responses. So, a quarter of charter school teachers said they’ve taught in at least the two states, almost 30 percent of private school teachers, and so on. So we have a nice slide that Morning Consult build for us that shows those differences, again, between sectors.
So those questions seem to stand out just along the lines of the teacher mobility, how retirement plans may hinder or induce the movement of teachers to take jobs at schools. That was one thing that stood out for me.

One other thing I wanted to point out for the most recent surveys that we had in the field in June is that we tried to be responsive to just all the protests and really a lot of the things that were happening across the country in late May and in June around the George Floyd protests and around racial bias and inequities. So we, in June, included a battery of questions just asking people about inequities that they see as a parent, either facing them or facing their children at their school and their community. Then we also asked the same questions to teachers as well.

So one finding that just kind of stood out, this is just a real general finding, is that it’s pretty consistent that among parents, at least 15 to 20 percent of parents said they see a lot of inequities regardless of the environment. So, 15 to 20 percent said that they see inequities happening at school, in their child’s classroom, and in their community.

Again, that doesn’t seem like a huge number. But in this context, I think that’s a big enough number, especially when they’re saying that extreme response, that they’re seeing a lot of these inequities. I mean, I think that’s something noteworthy.

Then we just asked folks what they thought could be effective ways to reducing racial bias in these different environments. So there weren’t a lot of differences. So we gave the respondents five items, and just about four out of five parents would say that any one of these things would be an effective, at least a somewhat effective, way to address racial bias in their child’s classroom or in their schools.

So that’s just something that we wanted to look at. What kind of potential actions and things that we can do at large, whether it’s sharing positive facts and stories and images of different racial groups, talking explicitly about race, setting good examples as teachers and as parents, or encouraging other parents and themselves to develop relationships across different races.

Hopefully we’ll be able to return to this general area to talk about maybe in another podcast with some outside guests, but I just wanted to mention that that was a new set of items and questions that we included in June where, EdChoice, we’re trying to be responsive to what was certainly a big thing that was happening in the country and continues to the present moment in terms of the protests and what’s concerning a lot of people, particularly among communities, the African-American and Latino communities, what’s concerning them right now.

Mike McShane: Yeah. Drew, what caught your eye?

Drew Catt: Yeah, honestly, it was those two questions that caught my eye the most. Especially when you’re comparing like the charter teachers who say, like you pointed out, Paul, that say the retirement plan was very influential. But again, they’re likelier to than district school teachers to teach in more than two states versus like one and a half states on average.

I’m really also curious as to are those neighboring states, are those different parts of the country? Why do they move? Then this is getting into a whole other set of questions that aren’t really pertinent to the slide decks or the tracker this month.
But, yeah, it’s just the fact that I personally don’t know of any other sector outside of the public sector where people are that connected to their pension plan. I know like here in Indiana, it’s a 10-year rule in order to get vested.

I remember like when… I keep using my wife as my anecdotal evidence, because it’s very, very easily accessible anecdotal evidence. But I remember when she got to her 10 years, she was like, “OK, now I can quit if I want.” Like, wait, what? They’re like, “Oh, now I can finally change schools if I want to.” I’m like, “No, you could have changed schools, but you just would have had to still teach at a public school run by the state.” They’re like, “Oh, I thought I had to stay at the same district for 10 years.”
So, I wonder how much of an information gap there really is.

So it does make more sense for the charter schools for it to be influential because it may not go from one charter network to the other. But arguably the retirement plan would be the same within the same state for a traditional public school teacher or a magnet school teacher.

Paul DiPerna: Just to follow up with what you just described, Drew, and I was just looking at some notes when Marty and I were talking earlier today. I love to quote you guys whenever there’s an opportunity, so I’d love to just share what Marty described, because I think he really captured a lot of this around how COVID has effecting teacher labor market and teachers generally.

So he told me that COVID is really making K-12 education messy, especially for teachers. He’s seen the recession is closing a lot of schools. I mean, that seems to cause many districts to be closing their buildings, moving totally online. So teachers in some places are experiencing contraction, like private schools closing or decreasing enrollment. But you may see demand for teachers increase in other places, teach online or maybe to be tutors in school buildings or maybe privately.

We don’t really have a firm idea of what the K-12 education landscape is going to look like in the coming months and years to come coming out of the pandemic. But I think Marty’s point is, and he’s echoed this before, but our systems are so rigid right now for teachers and not set up to facilitate smooth teacher labor market movement, and really, just to put it in layman’s terms, to allow teachers to choose and have a lot more flexibility in their working environments.

So that smooth flow of teachers, we don’t want to penalize teachers for their mobility. Which the current systems, especially in the area public district schools and the way those plans are set up, I mean, it really does penalize, especially the younger teachers and the newest teachers.

So I just wanted to just wanted to mention Marty brings up some really important points about some of these findings around teacher retirement plans and mobility.

Mike McShane: Well, gents, look, we can talk about this all day, but I think we’ve reached the witching hour here. So Paul, Drew, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Again, for those of you that are interested in finding out all of the details here, you can go to edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com.

I think, as Paul said, you can download all these great spreadsheets that we have. If you’re interested in the cross tabs and answering even some of the questions that we raised here, you should be able to do that. All of this stuff is sort of open source. It’s out there for you to see the exact questions we ask, the information that we got, and everything.
So thanks so much. We look forward to chatting with you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats.