Ep. 355: Monthly Tracker – January 2023

January 26, 2023

Members of the EdChoice research team discuss some unexpected numbers from the recent public opinion tracker fielded in December 2022.

Mike McShane: Hello. Welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, Director of National Research, and this is our first installment for 2023 of our monthly tracker podcast. Now, it’s a little bit confusing because this poll was in the field in December, so it’s really kind of the tail end of 2022, but it’s 2023, so we’re going to talk about it now. I’m joined by my colleagues, Colin Ritter and John Kristof, and as usual, we’re going to try and break down our public opinion polling to look at what people think about the American education system. We’re going to dive into what parents think about their own children. We’re going to look all across the country at different demographic groups, et cetera.

As always, you can go to our website, edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. Every month, Morning Consult, our survey partners, put together an awesome … I don’t even know … 80 or 90-slide PowerPoint deck … I’ve always hated that noun: deck … a PowerPoint presentation or … I don’t know … a bunch of graphics that they put together. That sounds so consultant-y to me, and I’m about the furthest thing from that as you could possibly imagine. They put together a PowerPoint presentation that you can download as a PDF. I’ll be as direct as possible about what it exactly is. We also put together all of the cross tabs, which is all of the different demographic groups, all the ways that you can slice the data of how people answered those questions, and they put the full question questionnaire on there so we’re completely transparent with exactly what we asked, when we asked, how we asked, et cetera.

I want to kick off the podcast today by asking my colleague, Colyn … we did a little bit of this in the last podcast, but I think, rightfully so, we’ve had another month of data, so we have the full 12 months as we look back on 2022 … are there particular lessons, particular things that you took away from 2022, that you think maybe people who only episodically jump in either to this podcast or to our website, as someone who’s been able to track this over many months, are there particular things that you take away from 2022 in our polling?

Colyn Ritter: Yeah. Thanks, Mike. Yeah. It feels a little bit more real talking about what we learned from 2022 now that we are officially writing ’23 on everything instead of 2022. Yeah. If you guys listen to the last podcast and many of the other ones, you know I’m constantly talking almost to a fault about learning pods or any sort of alternative learning methods in terms of how students learn, where students learn, and I think there’s a good reason for that. I think parents, ever since the pandemic and learning through the pandemic, they’re really looking for alternatives or just ways to improve schooling in ways that aren’t as traditional.

For example, we asked a really great question about what parents’ preferred schedule, weekly schedule, and location, between schooling at home and outside the home, would look like, what that ratio would look like, and it’s been pretty surprising, actually. It’s a relatively large chunk of parents, almost half, since we started asking the question in the beginning of 2021, so that’s now two full years of data on the question. We’ve been asking parents, “In order to provide the best education for your child, what would your preferred weekly schedule look like between schooling at home versus outside the home?” Obviously, the traditional format everyone knows is completely outside the home, five days a week, and there’s still a good chunk of parents who do want that five days a week at school for their child. That same proportion usually hovers between 40 and 50%.

But another option that hovers between 40 and 50% is one to four days at home. That’s saying that at least 40, nearly half, of school parents continue to prefer having their child learn at home at least one day per week and I think that is significant. I think that’s going to show up in a bunch of different areas. I think that resonates with parent support of learning pods, tutoring, things like that. For reference, the group that wants completely at-home learning this month was at 13%. Usually it hovers a little over 10%, so there’s a chunk of parents there, too, that want their child to learn completely at home.

But one lesson that I learned is parents know what’s best for their child. They got a good sense of what it’s like to learn completely at home. They obviously know what it’s like for their child to learn completely at school. It turns out, a good chunk of parents would like some middle ground of that, between one and four days at home is hovering between first and second, in terms of ranking parents’ priorities here. I think that’s something to keep an eye on for 2023 and something that really resonated with me in 2022.

Mike McShane: John, did anything jump out to you?

John Kristof: I think a couple things mainly. One is with two years of doing this public-opinion tracker on a monthly basis, fortuitously starting it during the COVID-19 pandemic … again, in case anybody needs a reminder, we started this January 2020 and we all know what happened two months later … we were seeing a lot of changes and volatility in a certain sense over the first couple years of the survey. I was constantly glued to this question of what percentage of parents feel comfortable sending their kid to a classroom every day? We could see some substantial jumps every month. We could see substantial jumps from month to month on parents’ comfort levels in that regard.

There were a lot of other questions that seemed to be somewhat related to the COVID pandemic as far as how parents and the population at large were thinking about education. 2022, if you’ve listened to some of our earlier podcasts in the year, you started to hear us start to be like, “Well, maybe we’re finally starting to see COVID slipping to the back of public consciousness here, and people are starting to think about other things first when it comes to K–12 education.” That pattern never really stopped. We started to see people thinking perhaps much more consistently or filtered through something that was more consistent than an ever-changing pandemic.

Things that in some ways used to be exciting, in a very distanced sense, just seeing changes from month to month as the world was changing so fast, maybe it doesn’t feel that way, but in many ways the world is changing much more slowly and so are people’s opinions on some things. Something like what Colyn was highlighting, parents’ preferences about alternative learning methods, pods, learning occurring outside of a regular school environment, the fact that we’ve been able to see those numbers remain consistent over the course of a year that mostly has involved COVID being on the back of the public’s minds, gives us a pretty solid indication of where the public is on a lot of these questions.

For those questions, we see that there is an appetite for something different, for something alternative, for something that doesn’t involve brick and mortar five days a week. I think that’s really valuable to pay attention to because altogether, we have 10,000 parents, and the general population, we get about 2000 per survey, so depending on how you want to count it, but most of the year it totals up to over 10,000 people giving us a pretty solid indication of where they’re at on a lot of education issues that used to be a lot more volatile.

I think it’s going to be interesting to see how we want to look at 2023, which we’ll get to a little bit later, where I think I went into 2022 expecting more volatility because we were seeing, not everything was volatile, but there were some questions where there was a fair bit of volatility. I was just trying to see throughout 2022 if things were going to stabilize and it seemed like they did, and I would expect the same in 2023, fingers crossed, on something else catastrophic happening. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s true or what kind of events might trigger some changes in public opinion on K–12 education. It almost seems like a boring answer to give for a monthly public opinion tracker, but I don’t think it actually is. I think seeing the rise of consistency and reliability in some sense is a valuable thing to observe.

Mike McShane: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think my takeaway is something similar, along the lines of stasis versus change, or how baked people’s opinions are. I think before I got into this polling in general, so maybe this is lesson’s not just from 2022, though it certainly applies to it, but just our polling in general is the degree to which people’s opinions are baked in on certain topics. Part of me thinks a lot of the experience I had with polling before this were things like presidential approval polls, and you can go on to 538 and see, they’ve got these great graphs where they track not just President Biden, but I think presidents going back to Truman or something, tracking their opinion rankings ratings over time.

You see these big changes. I think even within President Biden’s presidency, his approval and disapproval ratings have inverted with one another. I think I jotted down a quick thing before. I think at his peak of approval in March of 2021, he was at 54% approved and 40% disapproved, and in the trough of his popularity in July of 2022, it was 38% approve, 57% disapprove, so a perfect inversion. That’s like a 16-point, 17-point, swing on each of those numbers. We think it’s like, “Yeah, because stuff happens.” Events happen in the world, people handle them well, people handle them poorly, and people adjust their opinions accordingly.

If you think in the past year, not even mentioning years before, a lot of stuff happened in education. There was the tail end of the pandemic, but there were big national news stories about all sorts of controversies. There was big spending. There was all sort of things. There were horrible events. There were school shootings. There’s all of these things, big-time deal things that have happened. But if you look at what we ask when we ask people, “Do you think education is on the right track or the wrong track?”, it just kind of stays the same. Little bits and dip and dives here and there, but nothing really changing over time.

What I take away from this, and I think it shows up in some of these other questions, and it will be a lead in to my second question, but that people have sort of deep, intimate connections with schools, from their own schooling, from their children’s schooling, and that profoundly shapes the way that they view those institutions, positively or negatively. But that is what makes people think what they think about schools, writ large. Now, again, I think as John brought up, there are may be individual questions. There be maybe individual policies, individual people that folks have open minds to and will be shaped by events and the reaction to them or personalities or choices or whatever.

But I think these big, meta questions about what people think about schools are shaped by things that are just not … They’re sort of event invariant. Something crazy can happen and people will be able to say, “Well, that’s something crazy. It’s an aberration. It’s not necessarily … It doesn’t fundamentally change the way that I look at schools.” One of the things that buttresses this, which will go to our second segment here … longtime listeners to the podcast know we call this the Cleopatra’s Pizza Hut most surprising number … but a number that would surprise all of us, we’ve been asking this question for a while where we’ve asked parents thinking back over the last school year, “How well have your children been progressing?” We ask them about academic learning, we ask them about social development, and we ask them about emotional development. And one of the things that we found is that substantial percentages of the population of parents will say that their children, they will give it the highest mark, they will say that their children are progressing very well. So in December, 53% of parents said that their children were progressing very well academically. 48% said that they were progressing very well socially, 45% said that they were progressing very well emotionally. That’s a lot of people. Those are pretty substantial numbers in there.

But I think maybe for the first time, or we’ve done this once or twice, but it really stood out to me this month, we decided to add a little wrinkle to the question. And ask folks not just how your kids are doing, because again, I think experiences are so shaped by their kind of intimate personal connections to these institutions, but we ask people, “Based on what you’ve observed, how do you feel your friends’ children are doing?” Right? So not, “Just how your kids are doing, but how your friends’ kids are doing.” And the numbers drop.

So 53% say, “Oh, my kids are doing well,” but when you look at your friend’s kids, it drops down to 40% with academic learning. For social development, it drops from 48 to 36, and with emotional development, it drops from 45 to 34. In all of these cases, no one thinks someone else’s kids are doing better than theirs are. So now again, there’s a sort of interesting question here. Do we say that we think people have… Are they being a little bit more honest with us when they’re talking about someone else’s kids? Because they don’t want to say that their kid is doing poorly because that’s maybe partially a judgment on themselves as parents or judging their children or judging the school that they chose because of where they live or however much they chose it.

I don’t think we want to do too much psychologizing here. But I do think that it’s worth noting and thinking about the perceptions that people have, asking very similar questions, whether they’re talking about their own children or their friends’ children, and they’re much more pessimistic about their friends’ children, how they’re doing than they are on their own. Colyn, what was your Cleopatra’s Pizza Hut most surprising number of the month?

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, Mike, I liked what you said about your last question where a lot of opinions can be baked in. There was a lot to be negative about in the last couple of years. Like there’s massive learning loss. The NAEP report card showed that, I mean, horrible things such as school shootings that we should never have to even think about, but nevertheless, that’s a reality. School closures. There’s plenty to pick from if you’d like to be pessimistic about the landscape of education in K–12, but my most surprising number actually came from the same question Mike did, and I’ll go in a slightly different direction. And he talked about little twists to asking parents not just about their own child, but about their friends’ children. But in that question where we ask, “How you feel your child progressed, you know, last year?” 53%, which is the highest number we have since we started asking that question, 53% of parents think their child’s progressing very well academically. I think that is really huge.

I mean, the fact that we are seeing this growth. I mean, for reference, this number was at 32%. Just a third of parents thought this a year ago in 2021. So that’s a serious bump in the last year, 21%. And we see it in other places. It’s not just how you feel your child is progressing. For example, this month we asked school parents how they feel the direction of K–12 is generally going in the right direction or in the wrong track. Well, 56% locally feel like their school district is going in the right direction, 49% think their state’s education is going in the right direction. It drops off a little bit when you ask about school to national level. So you see it there.

You also see, we asked a question about how we feel, “Based on your observations of your youngest, oldest child, how would you rate their current teacher’s effectiveness for teaching English language arts as well as math and the effectiveness from school parents?” Roughly two thirds of parents believe that their child’s teachers are effective at teaching them ELA, English language arts, as well as math. So like I said, there’s plenty to be pessimistic about. There’s plenty to improve on. I’m not saying that education today is perfect, it’s far from it, but there is a lot of positivity out there. And I think parents are the closest to the scene, obviously. And like Mike said, there’s a good amount of parents, there’s a large chunk of parents out there who feel positive, whether it’s about their child’s teacher’s effectiveness, their children’s progression, the overall direction of K–12.

So you can look really at any sort of scale you’d like to, and there’s positivity to be found. So that was just surprising to me because maybe it’s just habit to want to talk about things that can be improved or are really bad situations in education. There are those opportunities to talk about, but there are positives to focus on, and we’re seeing that as we wrap up the last month of 2022s data.

Mike McShane: John, your Cleopatra’s Pizza Hut, most surprising number of the month?

John Kristof: Yeah, I’ll go a bit of a different direction. But back to the learning pods thing, which Colyn’s already introduced. The specific number about learning pods that I want to talk about is the percentage of parents who say that they’re participating in a pod or are interested in pods who think of them as substitutes for attending a regular school or attending a regular school online. And as a reference point or some background here, again, during the pandemic, and a lot of schools were struggling to provide adequate education for children, there were a lot of parents who tried to provide some sort of learning environment for their children that also was a relatively safe environment compared to a traditional classroom of a couple dozen kids. So this were learning pods, originally they were called Pandemic Pods for this reason.

Micro schools and stuff kind of existed on its own. But learning pods is something organic here and is something that’s kind of cropped up out of the pandemic. And during the pandemic about one in three, give or take, because again, there was more volatility over this time, but about one in three parents who participated in or were interested in pods saw it as a substitute to regular schooling. And even though interest in pods has maintained a pretty decent level of consistency over time, 30, 35%, the share of parents who saw pods as a substitute to regular learning did drop over time. It kind of plateaued where only about 10% maybe saw it as a substitute for regular school or virtual learning, 10 or 15%. So definitely a drop. And of course, the rest of these parents would see it as something in addition to regular schooling or supplementing regular schooling, just getting additional support, an additional learning environment outside of regular schooling for their kids.

But this month, interestingly, that number jumped up to 25 to 30%. 25% of parents who say that they’re in pods say that it’s a substitute, and 29% of parents who are not participating but interested in would see it as a substitute. So that’s a very sizable jump compared to what we’ve seen over the last several months, even a more extended period than that. Now, obviously what we’re interested in is whether this is a bit of a blip or whether this is part of a structural change. Again, there’s more awareness about pods now. There’s been a lot written about them. Parents maybe have had different experiences over time, participated in one, stopped participating in one, has the school of their choice maybe opened back up to regular operations. And maybe if they’re experiencing something that they’re unsatisfied with, looking at something like a pod would be more appealing.

It’ll be interesting to take a look at this number again over the next couple months to see whether there’s kind of like a new norm here of a bit of a higher percentage of parents think that pods could substitute regular schooling, because that would be a very interesting development. Because that’s not really pandemic lead like it has been in the past, it would be something structural and just more purely just a desire for a different kind of education. So that’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Mike McShane: So we are onto our third of four segments. This one we like to call Dive Into Demographics, where we look at some of those wonderful cross tabs that again are available on our website, edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. If you go up in the upper right-hand corner to the download section is where you find all this, the center column are all of the cross tabs. Colyn, when you dive into the demographics this month, what stood out to you?

Colyn Ritter: So one thing that I’ve learned over the now year and a half that I’ve been working in education reform and learning more specifically about school choice is like a lot of things, a lot of business aspects in our world, there’s a big push to market towards Gen Z. There’s a big appetite to get out in front of that and really make yourself appealing or just understood and talked about by Gen Z. And school choice I learned is no different. There’s a big push to market to Gen Z, get them to understand. Because I mean, I know when I was in high school and getting into college, education reform could not have been a subject less on my mind. And it’s hard, and Gen Z have a lot going on, and that’s well documented. And education reform is probably not their number one priority. But nevertheless, it is a big priority of ours at EdChoice to get Gen Z involved and to help understand and better explain what school choice can offer and what different school choice programs do.

And so because of that, every month we ask questions about different school choice program support. We ask about education savings accounts, vouchers, charter schools, and open enrollment. And we ask about what do they support or if they don’t favor these programs. And one thing that I’m always looking out for is Gen Z. And Gen Z had significant rise in support for this demographic group across the board for all four of the school choice programs mentioned before. Most notably, education savings accounts, which are the big thing right now in the education reform school choice movement. Recently with Arizona passing their expansion, ESAs are just becoming very effective in a sought after way to give parents and families more options.

And Gen Z rose in their support, they rose from 60 to 75%, 15 point increase since November for ESAs that put them at the third most likely group to support ESAs. I think that’s significant because, I mean, that’s part of the goal. I always like seeing commercials and brands and big companies trying to appeal to Gen Z. I think one of the best ones are the progressive commercials where they say, “Don’t act like your parents.”

Mike McShane: I love those commercials. I love those so much.

Colyn Ritter: They’re the best. They’re the best. There’s a new one that came out just about parents keeping their trash clean. It’s very good. If you can offer Gen Z a way to make fun of the older generations, more specifically their parents, I think they’d be on board with just about anything. And I think Progressive does that really well. So maybe that’s something we can talk about in the school choice world, like, “How can we make fun of the older generations?” Then maybe we can effectively market to Gen Z. But I think if we’re just looking at this month, I think we’re doing really well in terms of marketing Gen Z, at least in terms of support. Vouchers, Gen Z rose 54 to 62% for an eight point increase. We’re looking at charter schools. Gen Z increased from 56 to 63%, so another large increase. And then open enrollment, Gen Z is the most likely group to support at 75%. So three in four members of Gen Z are supportive of open enrollment as well as ESAs, and then two-thirds of Gen Z are supportive of charter schools and vouchers. That’s a big deal to me and that correlated with the rise in a lot of different demographic groups as well for school choice policies. But I think ESA is the biggest one to keep in mind and I’d be curious to see, hopefully it doesn’t Yo-yo too much. But yeah, Gen Z support is one thing that I’m always looking out for and it resonated big this month.

Mike McShane: John, what demographic subgroups stood out to you?

John Kristof: The breakdown that was particularly interesting to me, and I don’t know if this is particularly surprising, it may surprise some actually based on some interactions in ed reform. We asked a question this month about switchers. We asked parents to identify whether their children had gone from one school type to another school type outside of typical structural shifts, like you moved from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, something like that. And about a quarter of parents said that they had done that. And the group that was most likely to say yes, they have done this, overwhelmingly was parents of children with special needs, where 42% of special education parents said that they have switched school types for their kids at some point during their child’s schooling life. And that I think is a really nice one number indicator of the challenges that special needs kids have in the education system now.

I think there are a lot of people under an illusion that their school is great, it works great for my kid, our school serves everyone, there’s a place for kids with special needs here. And while that obviously is a noble goal, the reality is just that a lot of these kids struggle and a lot of kids seem to not have the resources that they need to succeed in school, such that special education parents are 10 percentage points more likely than any other breakdown that we have to switch their kids’ school type, interrupting the normal progression, if you will, just to try to get them into an environment that’s better.

Just to drive that point home further, if you want to have a guess of what group type is the least likely to say that they have switched their child’s school type, it is parents of children with no special needs at 19%. So it’s a pretty strong gap there. There are a lot of other interesting demographic breakdowns with this question as well. For example, I think it’s very interesting that the South seems to switch decently more than people in northeastern states. I think that could be interesting because there’s obviously large cultural and governmental differences there. I think in our world specifically, looking at this special education versus non-special education number is very important. We have slides elsewhere in the presentation, in the report that show most of these kids who switch are coming from public schools, and public schools want to serve everyone. That’s part of the marketing. And again, it’s a noble goal, but a lot of the kids need something else.

There are a lot of special education kids who maybe start at a smaller school, and because the smaller school has a smaller size, fewer resources, because private school maybe doesn’t have the same financial resources that the public school does. So to benefit from economies of scale, the parent will move their kid to a public school. I’ve seen it go both ways in people who I know in my personal life, and I think this is just a really good indicator of there’s just no one size fits all solution. There’s no one school type fits all solution. I think we need to question, even with all the advances that we have had in the past few decades, trying to serve kids with special needs, trying to better identify kids with special needs, we still have this issue where parents with kids with special needs just need something else, need to jumpstart their kids’ education by trying something else. I think we instead, decision makers really need to look at, okay, how do we help facilitate those decisions? Because the one size fits all solution just demonstrated unsuccessful.

Mike McShane: Yeah, I definitely want to get to talking about the switchers because we have a lot of great new information this month. We asked a whole series of questions about that. I will say for my dive into the demographics, I’m cheating because I want to just draw people’s attention to this particular slide. I don’t think we’ve had a chance to talk about it yet, but people should look at it. So my demographic groups, the slicing that was done was people who live in states that have various school choice programs. Morning Consult put together, I think a much more readable graph than in some of the things that we’ve done before, where we’ve asked this, what I think is a very fun question, which may just be a reflection of how lame I am that I’m like, oh, that’s fun.

But the fun question is we ask folks, does your state have a school choice policy? And we ask them, does it have charter schools? Does it have open enrollment? Does it have school vouchers? Does it have ESAs? And then we can know based on what state they’re in, whether they’re right or not. So we had this really interesting looking at did people get it right. So for example, for charter schools in states that folks have charter schools, when we ask the question, do you have charter schools? So we know the answer should be yes because they do have charter schools in their state, 62% of people correctly identify that, yes, I live in a state with charter schools, that is true. While only 19% say that they don’t, which I think is a pretty decent ratio, 62% get it right while only 19% don’t.

Generally speaking, the ratio gets worse for the others. So for open enrollment, for states that have the policy, 46% get it right, 27% get it wrong. So it’s still tilted in correct’s favor, but by a narrower margin. By the time you get to school vouchers, it’s 50/50. Of the folks that have it, about half of folks think that they have one and half of them don’t. And it’s even worse for education savings accounts. In states that have education savings accounts, more people think that they don’t have it, as opposed to that they do. So again, I know a lot of people that are involved in school choice advocacy listen to this podcast. I would direct people, I believe it is slide number 45. I highly recommend you take a look at that, because it seems to me a baseline concern that people have is just whether these things exist or not. And if you’re underwater, not even just do you like them or not like them, but do they exist or not, there’s definitely some work to be done there.

So for our fourth and final segment, I want to talk about some new questions. Most of them are related to switchers. One that I just want to highlight ahead of time, and to be honest, there’s not really a whole lot of commentary that’s necessary around it, but interesting nonetheless. Slide 14, for those of you following along in your textbook, but one of the sites put together that I think Colyn might have referenced earlier, we’ve asked this question about free and reduced price lunch. Obviously for those that are involved in education research or others, it’s always been a big signal that could be used to look at the demographics of students. So we thought, why don’t we ask a question, like for the school parents in our survey, are your children eligible for free or reduced price meals and are they receiving free or reduced price meals?

And to the best of my knowledge, our numbers basically line up with what we know about free and reduced price lunch usage. So 54% of the school parents that we polled say that their children are eligible and 50% say that they actually take it up. And again, an astute reader, if I’m wrong about this, please let me know, but 50% was always the number that I had in my head around the percentage of students that are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. When you dive into those demographics, they’re not super surprising. So if you look at the group of parents who say that their children are eligible, what demographic group is most likely to say that? Well, low income. 84% of low income respondents said that their children are eligible. What is the least likely group to say it? High income. Only 31% said, and along that.

One just interesting wrinkle that’s in there is it used to be, I think before about 2014, 2015, that time period, when schools identified students as being eligible for free or reduced price launch, every child had to fill out a form. You had to have parents fill out these forms to judge their income to make sure that they qualified or not. Around the 2014, 2015 mark, they move to community eligibility. So basically the long and the short of it is schools that are already located in low income areas where just you can make a pretty solid assumption that a majority of the students in the school will qualify for the program, just everybody qualifies for it, so rather than making every student apply for it.

So some people might look at these numbers and say, “Wait a second. How is it possible that folks saying I’m a high income,” 31% of people who are on “high income” are saying that they are eligible for free and reduced price lunch? My guess is that’s because they fell into community eligibility. So they may be higher income people living in a lower income area, but that’s just a little historical data point there.

What I want to get to and get my colleagues’ thoughts on are all of these switching questions that we ask. So again, they’re new this month and we asked a series of questions, like have you, besides moving from grade school to middle school or middle school to high school, and we’ll ask your oldest child or your youngest child, but has your oldest child ever switched school types or school sectors from one to another? So this is asking have they gone from public school to private school, private school to charter school, et cetera. We ask them what types of schools have they attended? Where are they attending now? And then we ask them some questions about the different circumstances inside those schools. We ask them to compare their old school to their new school on anything from bullying to peer groups to fighting to academics and all that sort of stuff.

So I would say looking across any of those, the new switching questions that we have, Colin, did anything stand out to you, things that particularly caught your eye?

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, I’m glad we’re asking this question. I know we asked the initial question last month as well, but the two dives we did into the type of schools, how their enrollment or their percentage of whether or not the kids are in the school drop or decreased or increased, I think is interesting, as well as why these parents move their children and how that reason, if they’re also feeling it in their new school. So for example, bullying was the most popular difficult circumstance that makes it hard for children to achieve academic and personal success. 30% of parents said that children faced that at their former school versus 21% of parents saying that they face that now at their current school. So that’s a good drop there. Academic needs weren’t being met, 24% of parents said that that was occurring at their child’s former school. Now only 10% of parents believe that is happening at their current school.

Yeah, it’s a really interesting question and it’s also good to see, we asked what type of school does your child currently attend and what type did they attend before they switched? 11% of kids were being homeschooled and now their current school, 14%. And we’ve talked a little bit about how we should word this question moving forward, but regardless, I believe that there’s an increase of people being homeschooled and I think that is good. Homeschooling is another one of these forms of alternative learning that parents are utilizing more since the pandemic.

Yeah. I’m curious to hear what you guys think. I think this question is relatively at its infancy, I believe 25% was around what we saw last month, so we’re getting a couple back to back months of about one in four parents have reported their child changing school types beyond the typical grade school to middle school, middle school to high school type of thing. So yeah, I’m curious to hear y’all’s thoughts on this.

Mike McShane: Yeah. John, what do you think?

John Kristof: Yeah, I’m especially drawn to this report on the difficulties that children face according to their parents, their old school versus their current school. And in just about all of these cases, and the one just kind of doesn’t apply because it has to do with income levels, parents are less likely to report their children having issues at their new school. And on the one hand that might sound really obvious, something you might expect, but I think it speaks to one of the overarching assumptions that we kind of, in the school choice advocacy space, have about school choice and that’s that we trust parents to make decisions that work best for their children.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled on whether parents have enough information to know which school is best for their child, whether parents have the capacity to get their children to the school that works best for their child, all these different things. Obviously in many individual cases there may be all sorts of factors at play, but if, as a rule you can expect parents to be able to see what their child is experiencing, see the options given to them, if they’re able to pick a better option, we would expect these types of reported problems that their children are experiencing going down, and that is what we see.

I think if children are only two thirds as likely to experience bullying at their new school compared to the former school of all switchers, I think a lot of parents considering changing schools would consider that a decent bet, especially when you compare it to this kind of adage that kids will be kids and bullying happens everywhere and bullying probably does happen in a lot of places, but sometimes new environments really do work and you can see that number show up here.

The dramatic gap between former school and new school and academic needs not being met is huge. That shows that parents really have an ability to, again, see the options given to them, however that is, whether they have a program, whether they have financial resources, transportation, all that, but whatever it is, they see options that are given to them and pick a different academic option that serves their kids better. I think that is kind of a narrative that we’re seeing show up in the numbers here.

Excessive stress or anxiety, that one is fairly similar at both cases. Maybe you can expect kids to experience stress and anxiety in school at a couple different places, maybe especially as kids get older. We saw that in some of our teen surveys at least. Reported issues experiencing depression, 18% at former schools and just 10% at current schools. Again, I think a lot of kids and parents would consider that maybe worth the bet, worth exploring other options. That’s a really difficult thing to get through in life in general, and also it’s really hard to have academic success when you’re experiencing that.

So I think these numbers suggest to us that there are a variety of reasons that parents might look for different schools for their kids. A lot of the top ones are just kind of social/emotional reasons, but also academic reasons are a popular reason to look for a different school and parents seem to be doing an okay job at picking a new school that puts their kid in a better situation than they were before. I’ll kind of just repeat what I said earlier, if that’s the case and there’s no one size fits all solution, I feel like we as decision makers should be asking, “Okay, how can we help facilitate that?”

Mike McShane: Yeah. Obviously my takeaways, I think, are quite similar to both of yours, but when I look at this graph that we’ve been talking about where across all these different areas, bullying, academic needs, et cetera, and across all of them, folks give what we would think to be the better rating for their current school as opposed to their former school, as John brought up, sometimes by very large margins. I think the only one that isn’t in there is parent loss of job or income, which really is outside of a school’s control. When people ask me, they’re like, “Does school choice work?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I mean this is pretty good evidence that school choice works. Right? If we see consistently, one thing that I would say if we saw these numbers inverted the other way, I’d be like, “Ugh, it kind of makes me uncomfortable that folks clearly don’t want these things and they’re, for whatever reason, unable to find schools or they’re constrained or they’re whatever.”

I mean this kind of shows you, again across a lot of different metrics, that people find schools, when people move schools, they move to better schools. And I’m using the term better both purposefully, but also sort of broadly, that they’re looking across a lot of different dimensions that can be difficult to capture in any one thing. But we are sitting here, I mean what do you want to talk about? Bullying, academics, stress, administrators, working with people, peer groups, physical safety, special needs being met? I mean difficulty with teachers? That’s really covering the waterfront there of lots of different elements of school. In every one of those cases, every single one, their current school is better than their former school.

So, I mean I just think that this is one of those things. We have lots of different ways to try and answer the question, does school choice work? Does giving parents the option to choose their schools, is it better for their kids? Is it a good thing for them to have happen? And there have been lots of complicated studies and randomized control trials and all of this stuff, but sometimes you just look at something very plain like this and you ask people, “Well, have your kids switched schools?” “Yes.” “Can you compare your old school to your new school?” And I get it, sure, there may be some bias that they’re invested because they have chosen this school and so they don’t want to look dumb and say, “Oh, I actually chose the worst school.” But even taking that into account, the numbers are consistent enough and different enough that it seems very, very clear that people are able to find better solutions for their kids and we need to help them do it. But anyway.

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, sorry. One thing, this chart, like you said, is painfully obvious in the sense of these parents and families and children, they’re not changing schools for fun, they’re doing it because there’s an issue that is impacting, in this case, academic and personal success, the main point of getting an education and going to school at these young age is to learn and to progress and grow as a person academically and personally, and they’re not doing this for fun, they’re doing it for a reason. And for me, it’s just another matter, it’s like if you are very adamant against and you oppose school choice, how can you look at a chart and a graph like this and say, “Well, this is not a clear indication that giving these parents the option at least is a worthwhile tool or gamble.”

I mean, like you said, bullying, depression, academic needs weren’t being met, concerns for physical safety, they all go down at their current school. That is just… Maybe that’s just giving parents the option, but it’s probably the fact that their needs are being better met at this school. It’s just another question that sits in my brain of how can people see this and say, “No, I don’t think these options deserve to be given to parents around the country.”

One thing I will say though, and I am curious to hear if you guys have a thought on this, is I hope we keep asking this question, I believe we will, but I’m curious to see if stress and anxiety, excessive stress and anxiety, if that gap starts to widen or if that continues to stay at about level. Because I think, and this brings me back to our teens polling, I mean anxiety and stress is one of the biggest focuses, I think at least at a societal level now compared to 20, 30, 50 years ago. There’s a better emphasis on acknowledging that stress and anxiety are major problems people deal with, especially younger children.

So I’m curious if changing schools is a potential solution to helping children with stress and anxiety, or if the stress and anxiety is independent of changing schools. I think that’s going to be really interesting just to see if stress and anxiety is something that is going to be around for quite a while, and there’s not just a simple solution here, but for example, when we talk about academic needs weren’t being met, it’s probably a safe bet that if you change schools and the parents make the decision on which school to go to that best suits their children’s needs, that this is going to decrease in terms of being a problem for parents and students. So, yeah, I’m curious to see how the stress levels change or if they continue to stay at about the same level at their current school compared to their former school.

Mike McShane: I think that’s a great teaser for next month’s podcast because we’re going to continue asking these questions and understand these very things, but I join you in that, Colyn. I look forward to continuing to see how that plays out. John, Colyn, a pleasure as always, always want to give a shout out to Jacob Vinson, our podcast editor, and to let everybody know to please subscribe to this podcast, give it high ratings, share it with your friends, family, everyone you know. Shout it on a street corner, say, “I heard a great podcast. Y’all should get in on this.” And as always, thank you to our wonderful listeners and I look forward to chatting with all of you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats and another edition of our monthly Tracker Podcast. Take care, everybody.