Ep. 229: Schooling in America Survey - Public Opinion on K–12 Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic - EdChoice

Ep. 229: Schooling in America Survey – Public Opinion on K–12 Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 15, 2020

Unlike previous years of our Schooling in America survey project, our researchers released multiple sets of results in a chart-focused format. This report focuses on the second wave of questions we asked about public opinion on K-12 education during the COVID pandemic.

Listen to the authors discuss the most interesting findings from the report.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, and I am joined by my colleagues, Mike Shaw and Drew Catt, as we talk about this year’s second installation of our survey, our Schooling in America survey. So, this is a survey that we put in the field for years now and we’ll talk about some of the longitudinal trends that have been developed. But obviously, we’re polling people at a very interesting time in world history, in American history, in the history of education in America.

I was just thinking right before this, it’s like a James Brown reference here, survey in America. But if this starts dragging, Jacob, our wonderful podcast producer, I’ll come out and pretend to collapse on the ground, and he’ll throw a cape on me, and then I’ll rise up and cast it off, and we’ll just keep it moving. But I’m mostly going to play a backing role here. I will be the Clyde Stubblefield to our twin James Browns that will be sharing the information here, Mike and Drew. Drew, I’m going to throw it to you first, just to put some background. So, we talk about the Schooling in America survey. As one can probably derive from that, it is a survey, is a poll of Americans about schooling issues. But can you just kind of give some of those background details, who we worked with, who we asked, what we talked about, and then we’ll get into the results?

Drew Catt: Yeah. So, for those of you that have not already poured over every single potential document related to wave 1, especially the survey profile, we once again worked with our partners Braun Research on this survey. This was an English-Spanish option. So, for this second wave, we actually fielded the survey from September 30 – October 20. And for a refresher, the first wave was kind of the May 22 – June 2.

So, yeah, this one is really kind of when parents have their kids, I guess, back in education, not necessarily back in school, depending on what their district or state is doing or what they have themselves chosen to do for their family. And this time we did an oversample of school parents. So, while our general population sample are basically adults ages 18 and over is about 1,200 individuals, the oversample of school parents is closer to almost 1,700 individuals. Whereas we typically just weight base for the general population, this time we did weight for the school parents as well so that not only can we say that our general population results are kind of representative and can be applied in any state, any city, depending on community type, but we can say the same thing about school parents this time as well.

Mike McShane: So, let’s get into it. Right? One of the classic questions we ask, we’ve been asking it since 2013, is right track, wrong track. Right? This is something we see in all sorts of surveys and in politics across a variety of issue areas. So, we ask whether people think that the American K-12 education system is on right track or on the wrong track. And I think one of the interesting things that we found is for the last few years, we’ve actually seen a bit of an uptick in the percentage of people who think that K-12 education system is heading in the right direction and a leveling off, even slight downtick, on the number of people who think that it was going in the wrong direction. But between the spring and the fall, we saw a big change there. We saw a big jump in the number of folks saying it’s on the wrong track. We saw a decline in the number of people that see it going on the right track. So, Mike, what do you think is going on there?

Mike Shaw: Yeah. So, this is one of those questions, Mike, like you said, we ask annually. And as a quick aside, I think it’s worth noting that I think the most valuable thing about our Schooling in America survey is that the trendlines we can observe year over years because we’ve been doing it consistently for a long time with the same or substantially similar instrument for a lot of these questions, and this right track, wrong direction one certainly qualifies as a great trend we have. With that said, because we did the two-wave installment that Drew described this year, it kind of remains to be seen how we’ll go about establishing the 2020 trend because we do have these two data points for spring and the fall. But it is super interesting that we did see a kind of divergence with the wrong track, right direction education in the spring, late spring, really early summer when this was surveyed. We didn’t know how long the pandemic would last. We didn’t know that virtual education necessarily would be a part of the school system long into 2020, and indeed, perhaps in 2021. So, when I read this with the general public, maybe folks are just having pandemic fatigue, potentially, the virtual schooling hasn’t been entirely successful across all states and sectors. But it is interesting that parents seem to be a little more forgiving on the system as a whole with—

Mike McShane: I was going to ask you about that because there seems to be a divergence from this trend when we ask school parents. So, could you maybe walk through what those numbers look like for school parents, and what do you think’s happening there?

Mike Shaw: Right. So, as you’re getting to the general public, it’s a little more than 6 in 10 in the fall believe education is on the wrong track. It’s really just a little more than half, in the fall, of school parents who think that way and it’s 46 percent thinking it’s in the right direction. So, it’s tough to prognosticate too much about why this differs. I think if you look for trendlines in years past, parents are generally a little bit more forgiving to, and certainly more opinionated. They’re more likely to have an opinion on this question, even after our instrument change a couple of years ago, but my initial thought, they may be more forgiving. They’re the ones maybe having to facilitate this virtual schooling and while they’d probably be the first to admit it isn’t going perfectly, they’re going to be more forgiving of the system as a whole.

Mike McShane: Yeah, and, Drew, we got at this another way as well. So, in addition to just asking the right track, wrong track question, we also broke it down a little bit more and asked both the general population and parents to give some of their local… Not just local, but sort of the institution in their lives, the institutions in their lives grades. And so we asked them like, okay, we sort of combined with the end local schools, local businesses, local government, state government, local news media, national news media corporations, and the federal government. We combined them all to say, “Okay, so who got the number of As and Bs, highest number of As and Bs?” And one of the things I thought was really interesting, both from the general population and from school parents, we saw every single one of those institutions, so from the local to the national, the governmental, the non-governmental, we saw declines in the number of As and Bs. And obviously, local schools saw one of the biggest drops, but local businesses saw drops, too. So, as you look at all of those things, what do you see going on there?

Drew Catt: Yeah, and that’s a great point that you made about the differentiation there between, again, as, Mike Shaw, you were talking about the general population versus current school parents, but yeah. So, in the spring it was about two-thirds of the general population saying local schools and local businesses got an A or a B. And I would like to point out that the spring respondents and the fall respondents are two completely separate, unique populations so this is not a direct follow-up trend with the respondents from the spring. But again, since they’re both nationally representative samples, we can assume that we can make this comparison.

So, yeah, now it went from 66 percent saying that local businesses get an A or B down to 56, and local schools went from about two- thirds to a little less than half in the general population. So, yeah, that was really striking. And then, again, like focusing on those current school parents, it’s like, yeah, there’s still 58 percent of current school parents saying that local schools get an A or B. So, again, they’re being more forgiving, I guess, and more understanding. Again, that could be because they’re closer to it. They’re more informed of the decision-making that’s happening. They’re actually potentially hearing from teachers, not just administrators, like some of the general population, general public may be. So, that may be a difference there as well.

Mike McShane: In addition to this lack of confidence or changing over times, one of the things that stood out to me in these results and it’s just terrible. I mean, it’s just, there’s no way of sugarcoating it. So, we asked a question about changes in childhood happiness and stress. And so compared to the spring, so this is just looking, not even longitudinally, but just comparing the sort of spring to the fall, parents, they’re more likely to report that their child is more stressed and they’re more likely to report that their child is less happy. I mean, should we be surprised by that? Mike Shaw, did that surprise you?

Mike Shaw: You know, surprise may be not the best word. It certainly interests me like it did you, Mike. I think here, it’s important to note, too, in regard to the instrument for this question set. While our follow-up survey and really the overall design and the kind of rationale for doing this two-wave approach for SIA this year is certainly rooted in the pandemic, not every question is super explicit that we’re priming parents about the pandemic directly. These questions aren’t an exception. They’re our baseline for the happiness and stress levels of students is before pandemic and after pandemic. And we have these kinds of two data points after the pandemic, this spring and the fall, to kind of measure this.

If you’re looking back to the spring, like I was saying before with kind of grading institutions and how schools are doing, there was still a large degree of uncertainty about the duration of how long this would last, how long would it be until children could see their friends safely, and in schools, and unmasked, and things like that. And as the pandemic has progressed, it’s becoming more and more indefinite. And I think stress levels naturally rise as a result of that. So, again, surprise may be not the best way that I perceive this, certainly interested in it and in just knowing that this is one of our questions sets that is kind of dead on hinting that pandemic effects is certainly useful, I think, for onlookers.

Mike McShane: And so, Drew, we disaggregated this and asked these questions based on where their children attend school. So, what we were just talking about the totals, we broke it down too. And one of the striking findings…

Drew Catt: Yeah, and that’s something that I found very, very fascinating, especially since so much of the work that I do with parent surveys, we do break it out by sector. So, knowing that sector differences exist in other areas, we’d kind of hoped that we would see something similar here. And, yeah, it’s the private school parents and the homeschool parents say that their perception of their children pre-pandemic to now is, yeah, private sector and the homeschooling sector are more likely to say that their children are happier now than they were. And that’s compared to the charter and public district sector. And then, yeah, it’s also the homeschooling parents that stand out where it’s nearly one in five homeschooling parents say that their child is much less stressed now compared to before the pandemic.

So, yeah, just wondering really how much there is to that. When I presented these results for a conference, kind of for a research conference, talked a lot about like, well, like how much of that has to do with the makeup of the kind of the homeschooling environment. Whereas maybe the homeschooler is used to only having access to one parent during the day, now the homeschooler has access to, hypothetically, both parents during the day if the parent that was going out and working the nine to five outside of the home is now working inside of the home. So, yeah, just wondering how much of that kind of has a role. Also wondering how much of the way that various schools and districts have rolled out the kind of online learning or the hybrid schedule, how much that impacts any sector differences as well.

Mike Shaw: And maybe just to put a coda on this question set, and I should emphasize our Schooling in America survey is we try to be pretty wide and perhaps a little bit shallow in our question set and scope just to survey a large degree of topics, and this certainly isn’t a happiness and stress intensive focus question set we have. But I do think it’s interesting when you look at other polling in 2020, thinking of K-12 education as an ecosystem, others have found things like substance abuse on the rise as a concern among parents and public school teachers. PDK found that at their poll. And you’re also seeing other polling and survey work among teachers who we’ve used as a survey demographic in the past, didn’t necessarily concentrate on this year, but that their burnout rates are increasingly high this year. So, just kind of encapsulating the increased stress, decreased happiness in the ecosystem, you’re seeing the pandemic having an effect all the way around.

Drew Catt: I was just saying anecdotally, like, I think I saw a piece in the New York Times a couple weeks ago where they were kind of interviewing and kind of profiling various teachers in different sectors. And based on my wife who’s a public high school teacher and the amount like she’s putting in, by her tally, an extra 10-15 hours a week compared to pre-pandemic, and yeah, that’s something that those profiles in New York Times that looked at charter school teachers, public school teachers, that’s something that’s the same. So, yeah, a lot of burnout potentially coming from the added work, the added bureaucratic hurdles with the virtual versus hybrid versus in person. Yeah. It’s kind of astounding.

Mike McShane: Yeah, so sticking with some of these sector differences, so an additional question that we asked was breaking down what schools have been doing. So, rather than having a sort of general give an A, B rating for how well you think your child’s school has been doing, we also broke down the various things that they’ve been doing. So, communication from teachers, access to teachers, quality of instruction, technology, logistics of remote learning, et cetera. One of the things that we found overall aligned to some of the other answers that we’ve seen thus far is that, generally speaking, parents were pretty forgiving. Like, 70 percent of parents on the whole gave communication from teachers an A or a B. One difference here, the one that they were the most and nearly a quarter of families gave a D or an F to the reopening plans, which I think shouldn’t really surprise any of us.

I don’t know how many school districts really covered themselves in glory on that one. But I want to stick on this theme of sector differences because not only we asked those questions just as a whole, but then we asked based on where people’s children went to school, whether it was a district school, a charter school, or a private school. And one of the things that we found consistently was the ranking of the percentage of people who give them As and Bs. In almost every place that we asked, every way we broke it down, it went private school, charter school, district school. Now, some of them were close. We saw some ties. There was one case where traditional public school district scored higher than charter schools, but in almost every other place, it’s private school, charter school, then public district school. What, Drew, if anything, does that tell us?

Drew Catt: Yeah, and again, like we didn’t ask on every single metric or every single potential category, just the ones that we could think of and then we went with our polling vendor’s recommendations as well. But, yeah, I think it really shows kind of the differentiation in how private schools kind of conduct themselves and conduct their business compared to some charter or district schools. I would be surprised if this rank ordering on the same thing, aside from reopening plan, the percentages may have been pretty similar in 2019, and the rank ordering may have been pretty similar in 2019 compared to today. So, I don’t necessarily think this is a product of what schools did or did not do or have or have not done during the pandemic, but potentially just a differentiation between how private schools conduct themselves versus how charter and district schools conduct themselves in terms of like communication from teachers, access to teachers, quality of instruction, communication from leadership, et cetera.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, and in as much as kind of segregating by school sector is a good indication of school choice and school choice policies, in as much as school choice is a self-selecting process in regard to, especially here where students are going to a private school or a charter school, I think with the reopening plan in particular, and again, they’re not highly negative necessarily. You’re still talking for all sectors, at least half of parents grading an A or a B for things like the reopening plan and more close to two-thirds for other variables. But, I think in as much as private schools have more autonomy than a lot of district schools, or just because they’re desegregated from a district reopening plan, they might’ve been more likely to reopen in certain cases. There’s evidence that parents who wanted to have in-person instruction or more in-person instruction than public schools and school districts provided were self-selecting into private schools. It’s not necessarily surprising they were more approving or graded higher, those plans, this year in particular.

Mike McShane: Yeah, just to wrap these up, I think another sort of interesting finding that a lot of this kind of comes together. So, just looking at the percentage of current school parents who are overall satisfied, one of the things that we found in that same sort of rank ordering, private school, 72 percent of parents in this most recent wave were very satisfied. So, they could pick very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied, or not enough experience yet. But, of those categories, 72 percent of private school families said they were very satisfied, 55 percent of homeschoolers were very satisfied, 40 percent of charter school and only 36 of district schools were very satisfied.

I’d also just add before we move on, we’ve been asking questions about homeschooling which is pretty interesting. From the spring to the fall, the percentage of current school parents that were favorable to homeschooling jumped up 12 percentage points. Now, it’ll be interesting as things, Lord willing, go back to normal whether people continue to have those things. This doesn’t necessarily say that they want to homeschool or they’re going to homeschool, but they’re at least more favorable to it, which I think is not nothing.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and this is one where didn’t necessarily do it here, but I also broke this out for a research conference presentation, looking at the sector differences. And it’s actually the homeschooling sector that is more likely to say that they are less favorable, and the charter and private school parents that are more likely to say that they’re more favorable. So yeah, that’s really interesting as well as it’s the perception from the outside versus the perception from the inside is different.

Mike McShane: For sure. So, now, obviously, we included a lot of these questions. We’re interested in how these things have worked out related to the peculiar circumstances of this year. But our Schooling in America survey also has some old favorites. And I think that there we’re talking about as well, some of these questions we’ve been asking for a long time. One of my favorites is our school funding question. Right? So, we do two things when we survey folks, and this is just of the general population. We ask, “Do you believe that public school funding is too high, too low, or about right?” And consistently we find when people don’t have the information, they say that it’s too low. So, in this case, about 53 percent of respondents said that funding was too low. When they actually get the information we’re able to impute into the survey how much their state spends on average, it dramatically drops.

It drops down to 34 percent people saying it’s too low, and while we see those sort of votes distributed to about right and a small number of them move over to too high. So, one of the things, Mike Shaw, that I’m interested in knowing is this is something that we’re not the only people that ask questions like this. I know Education Next does and others. So, I keep thinking, I mean, we’ve been doing this for years. At some point, are people going to figure out how much money their states spend? Because the whole premise of this question is that people don’t know and it keeps working over and over again, and I keep expecting some year for people to get how much their state spends on education. But time and time again, it doesn’t. Is that going to change? Is this just sort of a facet of our culture that we just don’t know how much we spend on schools?

Mike Shaw: Yeah, I mean, the cultural aspect is possibly some of it. I mean, in as much as you’re just assigned to the district you’re living in and so much of K-12 education is taken care of at least as far as the assignment and kind of protocols are concerned. I think Americans aren’t too inquisitive when at least bare minimum services are provided for them and they don’t tend to ask a lot of questions or follow-ups. So, the culture’s part of it. I also just think the system is pretty opaque. If you talk to Marty Lueken, our fiscal director, he’d be the first to tell you how indiscernible most states funding formulas are and how difficult it may be to even just find this baseline information about what it costs states to educate students and, of course, there are all these weighting and location-based variables that we don’t really get into with this survey instrument.

So, yeah, I mean, again, maybe I’m not as surprised just because it’s a pretty opaque system. It’s pretty niche in a lot of ways. If our survey does anything, it informs at least our smallish sample of 1,000 to 2,000 people each year about what it does cost and maybe some opinions are changed as a result. But if that’s the rate it takes to change opinions or to inform really, not to change opinions, it’s going to take a lot of time.

Mike McShane: What you’re saying is we just need to execute the survey, what, 10, 20, 30,000 more times, and then we’ll tell everyone, yeah.

Mike Shaw: Essentially.

Mike McShane: Well, and that may have held true in the past, but this year we did do something different, kind of took the lead of something that Ed Next has been doing for a little while, asking about district-specific, and we asked about state-specific. So, we were actually, instead of in years past, we asked people to estimate it based on public funding in their state, whereas previously prior to 2020, we were asking for in the United States. So, the national average, and then you have for the split sample, we actually were able to give them, on average, this amount is being spent per year attending schools in your state. And depending on the state that ranged from like about 7,200 to almost $23,000, which I think that was D.C.

That was usually the higher one. But, yeah, so we were even able to get a little more granular this year because I would hope that people are more able to estimate the spending in their state than they are the national average. But, yeah, we’re still kind of seeing the same thing is that a lot of people just really aren’t good at estimating really what’s spent in their state and even like on the national level, I’ve seen, and I had to throw this out on like a state poll before, but like you can type in the number one, two, three, four, five, and you’re more likely to be closer to the actual national average than anything that you would actually guess.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, and I think that’s sophistry, Drew, is really important. I’m glad we made that switch this year and we’ll continue to do so in fall in years. I think the interesting thing though, with this year in particular and in moving forward is just as it did during the great recession, there’s going to be budget battles in statehouses, come the spring, or perhaps virtually budget battles and K-12 education may take another hit. So, whether these perceptions change or not will probably depend a lot on those budget battles as a result of revenue falls from COVID and as well as just the public perception of K-12 education funding.

Mike McShane: Yeah. So another one of my favorite sort of charts that comes out of Schooling in America every year, a very compelling sort of just one, take a quick look at a graphic and it tells you a lot, is the question that we ask parents about where they would like to send their children to school versus where children actually go to school. And so when you ask parents where they would like to send their children to schools, sort of this is if they were able to do so, if they had to sort of complete school choice, what we see is about a third of parents say that they would send their kids to a public district school. Around 13 percent say they’d send their kid to a charter school. 41 percent say that they would send their children to a private school, and 12 percent say that they would homeschool their children. So, nice even distribution there, like a little bit for everybody. But, when you look at the actual enrollments, while only 33 percent of school parents would, in their ideal world, send their children to a traditional district school, in actuality, 83 percent do. There is a 50-point gap between how many people would like to send their kids there and how many people actually send their kids there.

We see the drop, too—only about 5 percent of kids who are in public charter schools, about 8 percent of kids are in private school, and about 3 percent of kids are homeschooling, so far lower than that. But, that’s something that we see basically every year, that actual enrollments do not match what parents want. But I want to drill down to something that I think is actually an interesting wrinkle in this because this year we broke this question down by income. So, lower-income families, middle-income families, and higher-income families. And I think we saw some really interesting differences there. While, generally speaking, the patterns were similar to one another, the actual kind of bundle of how each one of those ended up is different. Right? So, Mike, can you break some of these down, and were there some of these differences that stood out for you?

Mike Shaw: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the big one is this kind of income differentiation in that the lower-income parents were more likely than the other income demographic groups. I should know we have some pretty broad income bands here in SIA. You can review the instrument or a questionnaire to kind of see that the cut-off ranges, but you can make an argument that just having the three income bands may kind of change… Not change the results, but things would look different if there were more income bands, potentially. But, anyway, the lower-income parents were more likely than the middle and higher-income parent to prefer homeschooling for their children and less likely than the higher-income parents to prefer private schooling. Now, this is interesting as a snapshot to me, but I also think it could be indicative of future years and where things might be headed with education policy in that the pandemic is really squeezing private schools, in particular, the private schools in inner cities and elsewhere that generally charge lower tuition rates and are deemed as more affordable options along with kind of scholarships and other school choice opportunities for lower-income parents.

And they’re being especially squeezed this year due to the pandemic and not being able to have their full enrollments. On the flip side, homeschooling, which in a certain lens, is kind of seen as more of a higher income, one working parent, one staying home parent sort of endeavor, accurate or not, that it can be the perception. Now, that’s kind of been, in some ways, thrust upon parents of all income spectrums, especially lower-income parents who were more likely, our survey and others found, to have more complete virtual enrollment in schooling for this fall semester. And whereas previously this homeschooling option might have been seen as unattainable for lower-income parents, just not an option, just outside the realm of possibility, now that at least in some shape or form has been thrust on them, I’m wondering how that perception will continue to change and evolve from here on out.

Drew Catt: And the really interesting thing is if you compare this income breakout to like the income breakout for how opinions of homeschooling have changed, it’s flipped. So, how favorability of homeschooling has changed, the higher-income parents are the most likely to say that they’re more favorable and the lower-income parents are the least likely to say that they’re more favorable. But when it comes to their actual preferences, which when it did come to the preferences, we did specify parent-directed homeschooling to kind of hopefully make it so parents weren’t thinking about hybrid or virtual schooling at all, but yeah, the fact that it is flipped, that’s really, really fascinating. That, like, okay, the lower-income group compared to the other income groups is the least likely to say that they’re more favorable and they’re the most likely to actually prefer homeschooling.

Mike McShane: So, I want to move on when it comes to actually making some of this stuff happen. And again, some classic questions that we’ve been asking in the Schooling in the America survey all the way back to 2013 is about favorability of various types of school choice programs. And we’ll go through education savings accounts, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and charter schools, but to put the sort of headline here at the front, for all of those forms of school choice, we saw the highest favorability ratings of any point that we have been asking these questions. And so maybe just to start with ESAs to show this, and this is for both, when we look at the general population as well as parents, but we look at education savings accounts, our polling of favorability of them, in 2016, right, 52 percent of our respondents said that they supported education savings accounts.

Now, that was a bit down. Back in 2015, it was 62 percent. So, might’ve been a bit of an anomalous dip there, but from 2016 till the fall of 2020, when now 81 percent of our respondents in the general population said that they support education savings accounts, and obviously we saw some commensurate dips in the people who were opposed to them as well. But from 52 to 81, I mean, Mike, that’s a huge gain, isn’t it? And this is something that we see even in parents. I mean, the parent question has gone in 2016, 58 percent favorable to 86, like 86 percent favorable, which is just an insanely high number. What do you see there?

Mike Shaw: Yeah, Mike, I mean, you’re spot on. You’d be hard pressed to find many policies, nonetheless K-12 education-specific policies that, A) have increased favorability that precipitously in a relatively short duration and, B) just have such a high support rate at this time. You’re talking more than 8 in 10 people support ESAs based off our results. This is one of those things. First, we should note, of course, for these results we’re referring to for school choice programs, as we have in the past, we offer general results, just kind of probing folks about the policy by name only. And it’s maybe not surprising, but favorability changes when you actually give them a definition description of the results, which we’re alluding to here. And maybe this year more than ever, parents and others, taxpayers, are kind of seeing what’s possible with school choice programs, and more specifically ESAs, just kind of give you the more flexible approach to education by kind of unbundling, and, Mike, I know you’ve done work on this, unbundling K-12 education services.

So, super interesting to me in some standpoint that it’s risen this high and risen this quickly, but there’s still going to be a gap, I think, in the intermediate term with educating folks about these policies on a wider basis, kind of going back to, Mike, the funding issue or lack of knowledge of that issue.

Mike McShane: Yeah. So, Drew, just to kind of keep the party going, school vouchers. So, we asked do you favor these, do you oppose them, and then we also obviously gave an option for if you don’t know about them, or if you want to skip the question, or whatever. In the general population, we see a 73/26 favor to oppose and amongst school parents, a 78/21. Now, I guess one question that I would have for you is do you see these as sort of like independent observations or is there just like a general kind of pro-school choice trend? And so, we could have said anything that gives people more school choice and just given the circumstances of the world, that people would be more in favor of it, or is it more specific, is it more general or is it something else?

Drew Catt: My working hypothesis is that there appears to be kind of an inverse correlation when you’re looking at voucher favorability and the percent that would give their local schools an A or B rating. So, if you remember like what we talked about earlier in the podcast, the spring compared to the fall, we saw a decrease in people giving their local schools an A or a B, and then we’re seeing increases when it comes to ways to realistically, financially afford alternatives. So, I really do wonder if kind of there is a connection there and more of a correlation than a causation, if you will, for the researchers that are listening. But, yeah, that’s kind of my working assumption is that it may be reflecting more of a dissatisfaction or perception of the local schools, and kind of more of a desire for options now maybe than there was in the past.

Mike McShane: And it looks like we see something similar here with tax-credit scholarships. Right? So, it’s a 74/24 split with the general population and an 83/17 with current school parents. So, Mike, do you think that tells, sort of advocates anything? Do these data and looking at the difference, ESAs, vouchers, tax credits, is there anything that people who maybe are trying to… We have legislative sessions that are coming up in the spring here. Is there something that advocates can take away from these numbers?

Mike Shaw: Yeah, I mean, look, the trend is for a lot of these programs and policies we’ve been observing for a while now have been positive to definitely positive for a while. So, for those in the know, for advocates really trying to push these programs, these results aren’t necessarily surprising. I do think it’s worth mentioning, digging in a little bit more, how folks feel on a granular level, both at the demographic level as well as kind of how these policies are implemented. Specifically, we tend to ask with ESAs, and we’ve done this with other programs in the past, whether they should be specifically targeted to folks at the lower-income level or any other kind of targeted approach versus a universal, seeing again, that the universal application for a school choice program is more favorable, and other point is seeing this as well, which is interesting.

So, I think if you’re an advocate or someone trying to implement this policy, that’s something to take away. And at this standpoint, and again, who knows where things will be come spring, legislative sessions and how education schools will look, but the fact is the folks who have had to receive some alternative form of schooling, in the form of virtual schooling or kind of hybrid, or what have you, that’s kind of been exposed to everyone this year, whereas those who just really needed it, and wanted it and just the default option wasn’t a good fit for their child, that’s kind of been a minority for a while, at least as far as those who actually did take action and were empowered financially or otherwise to do so. Now that everyone’s been exposed to it, who knows what kind of groundswell we’ll see, but I do know it’ll be a topic in legislative sessions come this spring.

Mike McShane: Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that for our charter school favorability, we saw very similar numbers to this as well. But taking a step back as we kind of bring our conversation here to a close, and obviously, we could keep talking about this for a long time. We encourage everybody to check out the full results. We’re only giving a small grab bag of things that we found to be interesting. There’s a lot more stuff in there. But I want to give each of you a chance to just sort of either taking the big picture or if there was something in here that we missed that you think people really should know about. As we kind of walk away from this conversation, and the data, and survey, and polling that undergirds that, what should people walk away with from this conversation? Drew, I’ll give it to you first. And then, Mike Shaw, you can follow up.

Drew Catt: Yeah, I think one of the things that stuck out to me and to kind of finish along with the charter school stuff is awareness. So, I love measuring awareness and doing the wording experiments around awareness. So, when it comes to awareness of educational choice reforms, from the spring to the fall, there was not much difference when it came to ESAs. In fact, it was like 35 percent said that they had never heard of ESAs in the spring versus 36 percent in the fall. There’s a slight decrease in vouchers, went from 29 percent saying they’d never heard of vouchers in the spring to 27 percent in the fall. But, charter schools, there’s actually a 3 percent, I guess, decrease in unawareness. So, I guess a 3 percent increase in awareness going from 15 percent in the spring say they’d never heard of charter schools to 12 percent in the fall saying they’d never heard of charter schools.

So, yeah, to me, it’s the more that families are wanting options, the more that they are favorable of the policies. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to awareness. And that’s something that I’ve seen within like state parent surveys as well, that one of the reasons that parents not participating in a program say that they don’t participate in the program is because they’ve never heard of the program in their state. So, I think, yeah, in terms of whether it’s homeschooling, charter schooling, private school choice, I think in a lot of states, there’s still a lot of work to do at the ground level in terms of grassroots advocacy and awareness building.

Mike Shaw: Yeah. And for me, bringing it back to pandemic and it’s a fact in education, I was pretty interested in… We didn’t really get to touch on this a whole lot, but this isn’t surprising, but the fact that COVID related concerns as far as children getting exposed to the coronavirus or social isolation, falling behind academically, parents still rated those concerns really high in the fall. It was between a third and 4 in 10 parents who were rating this concerns extremely high. Closer to half did have general concerns about those and other related COVID education issues.

So, I think that’s something to keep a pulse on, especially while we proceed through this pandemic, through what has been a brutal winter in terms of exposures, deaths, and the like, but also twinning that with increased evidence that schools and children in particular don’t seem to be super-spreaders of the virus. There’s still some questions lingering about that, but I know a lot of K-12 policy advocates and researchers are weighing cost benefits of the pandemic, school re-openings less virtual schooling has kind of been a hot topic in that regard. So, kind of just twinning that with the still very real threat of the virus and very real concern of parents for the effects that the virus is having on K-12 education and their children.

Mike McShane: The wild, wild times that we are living in. But hopefully, the survey data that we’ve generated and our conversation of it can help people understand it a little bit better. Gentlemen, it’s been great spending this time with you. To all of our listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation. Please make sure to check out everything that’s involved with this poll on our website, www.edchoice.org, and we look forward to talking to you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats.

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