Ep. 362: Monthly Tracker – March 2023

March 16, 2023

EdChoice team members Mike McShane, John Kristof and Colyn Ritter go over the results that stood out the most from this month’s public opinion tracker.

Mike McShane: Hello and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, Director of National Research at EdChoice, and it is a pleasure to join you today with my colleagues, John Kristof and Colyn Ritter. And you know if the three of us are on the podcast today, we are talking about our monthly tracker podcast. We are recording this in early March, but this was a poll that was in the field in the middle of February. 

As usual, we poll the nationally representative sample of Americans. We over sample parents to get a nice, wonderful national sample of them as well. We had a couple new questions on the docket this month. We had some new responses to old questions, so there’s lots to talk about. So, I think we’ll just jump right into it. In our first segment, we are going to talk about our Cleopatra’s Pizza Hut most surprising number of the month. John Kristof, what caught your eye? 

John Kristof: I’ll start by taking us in a very high level view here. Every time when we’ve conducted this survey, we ask what is, a kind of a fairly common question in education polling, how do you feel about the overall direction of K–12 education? And we give people two options. You can either say it’s going in the right direction or it’s on the wrong track. And then, all the questions after this we ask them are a lot more specific and we’ll talk about that later. This is just to try to get a pulse of how people are feeling about education in general, which I think captures the zeitgeist a little bit and it snuck up on me a little bit because this question, I’ve associated with being very stable over time, and in some ways it is, but big surprise this month, it’s not a huge change from last month. 

The percentage of people who say that they feel K–12 education is going in the right direction. Not a huge shift, but another small downtick. And we’re now at a point where we’re kind of near the lowest numbers that we’ve ever seen as far as the general public feeling K–12 education is going in the right direction. So, when we ask about the local school district specifically, about a third of people say that’s going in the right direction, brought in it to the state level, 32 percentof people say it’s going in the right direction, brought it out to the whole nation, which is people are always most pessimistic about. It’s down at 23 percentof people saying it’s going in the right direction. So, that’s pretty low. Those are numbers that we haven’t really seen something like that since the Delta wave of COVID way back in the day, like the late 2020, early 2021, the Delta, Omicron period, beginning to lose my sense of COVID history a little bit. 

And again, it’s not like there’s a catastrophic change that has caused these things to plummet, it’s just over the course of a number of months. You’d see some creeps up, we saw a surprise spike in September, but then we’d just go right back down. And anyway, it’s just slowly been creeping down over time. And now people are about as pessimistic about K–12 education as we’ve seen in a very long time. And maybe now is a good time to ask why and figure out what’s going on. What are people looking at? What are people wanting to see from their education system that they’re not seeing? Do people feel like we’re prioritizing the right thing, the wrong thing? Maybe it’s just a good time to… When you realize the numbers are that low, maybe it’s a good time to figure out what’s going on. What are we missing? Because it’s important to not let the gradual decline, let us miss that there is a decline. 

Mike McShane: No, for sure. Absolutely. Well, mine for this month is our question around microschooling. I was really surprised by this one. For those of you who listened to the podcast last month, for the first time, we asked a question asking parents if they had enrolled their children in a microschool. So, these are sort of purposefully small schools, we set the limit at like 25, it’s kind of arbitrary, but somewhere in there purposefully small schools. And we were really surprised because eight percentof parents, and even when we asked the question slightly different ways last month, eight percentof parents said that their kids were enrolled in microschools. And while that might not sound like a lot, that’s actually huge, that would make them bigger than charter schools, probably make them bigger than Catholic schools. I mean big networks of schools that we think about. 

Suddenly, almost overnight, this whole new sector would have emerged. So, if you remember, we sort of mentioned on the podcast, we weren’t entirely convinced that those numbers were real. So, we talked with some of our friends, the great Don Soifer who runs the National Microschooling Center, some others, and we said, “Look, this number seems high. How might we be able to tweak these questions, maybe be a little bit more accurate?” And to be perfectly honest with you, sort of like how do we tweak this question to bring this number down? One of the ways we can ask this sort of weed people out who answered this. And so, some of the great feedback that we got was like, “Oh, well maybe some people are doing this part-time.” And those were people that were answering it. They’re enrolled in a full-time school normally, but they’re doing something on the side. 

So, what we did was re-ask the question this month we asked a very general just, is your child enrolled in a microschool, where we just say microschools are small learning environments in K–12 education, typically enrolling no more than 25 students. Do you have a child currently enrolled in a microschool? We also experimented by giving people a separate question, which said all of that stuff, plus these schools are organized as shared learning for homeschool children as private schools are even using public charter, regular public school spaces, students attend microschools full time. Microschools can be required to follow state and local rules depending on the public private homeschool status. Do you have a child enrolled in a microschool? Again, two ways to really try and narrow down who we’re talking to. 

Again, thinking that the number would go down, it did not go down. In fact, it went up. The basic question that we asked without, without information generally talking about microschools, this month, 10 percentof families said that their child was enrolled in a microschool. And the second question where we were even more clear, you have to be enrolled, they have to follow rules, et cetera. 11 percentsaid that their children were enrolled in one. 

So again, we’re going to keep playing around with these questions because like 10 percentof American school children is a lot of kids. But I think each month, you know, you sort of move your priors. If I thought going into this that it was maybe two, three, four percent, eight percentshows up, okay, maybe it’s more like four, five, six percent. Well now that 10 or 11 percentshows up, maybe I’m willing to sort of adjust upward. I’m still not fully convinced of exactly what this number is. We’re going to keep asking the questions, we’re going to keep trying them in different ways. But to be perfectly honest, if after two, three, four months asked in a bunch of different ways, we keep getting basically the same answer, I think we can have a lot more confidence so that’s true. But just satisfying the criteria that were you surprised by a number? I was incredibly surprised by this number. So, I think it fits the bill. Colyn, what surprised you this month? 

Colyn Ritter: I’m going to dive into reasons why parents choose schools. I don’t think I’ve talked much about this question on the podcast because it’s been typically pretty stable. We ask two groups of parents, public school parents as well as private school parents. Public school parents are pretty predictable in the fact that their main priority of why they enrolled their child in their public school is because of location or affordability, some of those proximity factors. Private school parents have also been a little bit predictable. Their main priority is always safe environment. And then, number two or three in terms of reasoning is usually academic quality or one-on-one individual attention or class size, lower class sizes, things like that. And typically results don’t jump super high or fall really low in terms of prioritization. But private school parents this month really seem to prioritize structure, structure had a 17 percentbump up to 35 percent. So nearly a doubled in terms of importance. 

So much so that it is on par now with academic quality. I think that’s interesting for a couple reasons. One, simply for the fact that we’ve never seen structure on there. I’m going to plug our schooling in America that both John and I worked on last year where we trend this out a little further than we dive a little deeper into it. And again, structure is not typically one of the highest ones, it was 27 percent in schooling in America in the big project in one of our flagship publications that we did in the summer. Again, academic quality, safe environment, those two were kind of the kings there. But to see structure on par with academic quality was interesting. And another reason I think that’s interesting is because there’s a couple questions that kind of play or could kind of help give some information in the background for this question. 

For example, tutoring, private school parents, kind of double dipping here, multiple questions, but private school parents in terms of demographics, for those who are most interested in tutoring private school parents are number one at 66 percent. So, two thirds of private school parents indicate that their child is getting tutoring outside normal school hours. So, maybe that talks to the fact that academic quality as a prioritization for why their kid is going to private school dropped 11 percent and is now on par structure. I think that’s worth talking about. Private school parents are typically very happy with their schooling experience with their kids. So again, academic quality might not be as big of a priority, but it was just interesting and surprising to me to see the structure jumped that high. And if structure continues to climb, maybe it can challenge safe environment for that number one spot which we’ve seen or months on end at this point. 

Mike McShane: Well, I think that’s interesting too because; yes, we’re having a lot of conversation about, and in the polling we talk about hybrid homeschooling, we’re talking about some of these micro schools and others that I think some people associate with being less structured environments, like more student-centered, et cetera. But it does show that parents want a bunch of different things, right? So yes, there are lots of parents that want perhaps less structured environments, but there are also parents who want more structured environments. And so, it shows I think the whole sort of length and breadth of the sort of demand for school choice across the country. 

Colyn Ritter: No doubt. 

Mike McShane: We’ll go on to our second segment here, the Frankenstein’s monster against the grain number. John, did you have a number that sort of stood out as against the prevailing narrative in education today? 

John Kristof: Yeah. And I’m going to combine a couple to a single idea here, which is just education at home is actually pretty popular among parents generally. And this is an against the grain number for me a little bit just because I happen to be reading a lot of law review articles this week incidentally, about the dangers of home education and all the potentially bad outcomes from there, almost exclusively in a theoretical sense. 

Also, if you follow enough education choice, news, articles, and things like that, you’re always going to find people who are a little bit skeptical of what parents are going to be able to do or how interested parents even are in spending time educating their kids at home. And I guess I’ll start with our homeschooling numbers because we ask parents about how they feel about homeschooling just in general, not how likely are you to homeschool, how interested are you in homeschooling? But what is your opinion of homeschooling generally? And always it’s about two thirds, well, over 60 percent of parents pretty consistently are favorable toward homeschooling, and then it’s like less than a third that is unfavorable to homeschooling. So, it does show that yes, there are some parents who are skeptical of what homeschooling can do, but most parents who understand what it is, most parents are favorable to it. It’s an idea that they like. And even if it doesn’t work for them, they recognize that it works for some people. 

Along those lines, even if you’re not homeschooling your kids, you’re not controlling your curriculum, there’s hybrid schooling or online schooling and things like that. And people who have listened to these episodes for a long time will know that we’ve asked about how parents would feel about their kids spending at least one day a week for education occurring outside of the school environment. And very consistently parents are more likely to say that they would prefer one to four days of schooling occurring at home than all five days occurring at the school environment. 

So some kind of alternative, at least partially alternative, if you will, education is something that appeals to parents, anywhere between 40 and 50 percent depending on the month. That would be their ideal situation, which kind of goes against a bit of a grain that we’ve heard for a long time in the news. And this is very true for some people where, if the school is not open and it taking kids in the brick-and-mortar environment, then parents are not able to structure their lives in the way that they need to for their job or whatever it is. And obviously that’s very true for some parents because we also see that in our numbers, but there’s a lot more parents than I think people would think, 40 to 50 percent, for whom that’s not the case and something else sounds very appealing. 

So just bringing those couple numbers together, you can easily find a lot of narratives out there about parents don’t trust other parents when it comes to home-based education. Parents need the schools to function in a brick-and-mortar environment five days a week or else life gets too complicated. And it’s just not true in all cases, it’s not true in enough cases to warrant shutting down this discussion altogether to warrant shutting down how to empower these kinds of alternative situations. It’s actually something that parents are very open to and interested in. 

Mike McShane:  Colyn, did you have an against the grain number for this month? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, my against the grain number is rather a close one in terms of proximity. As you guys know, as many of you will know listening to this podcast, the Arkansas State Government just passed the LEARNS Act, which is going to result in one of the most expansive education savings accounts, school choice programs in America. So congrats to my home state of Arkansas. But the reason it’s against the grain is naturally there’s been a good amount of opposition to it and I’ve been reading and listening to it and trying to understand the potential opposition’s point of view. And as you guys may know, Mike, John, and I are fans of school choice. So let’s talk about some school choice-related polling questions. 

One, I’d like to point out that opposition for ESAs among all adults and school parents was less than 10 percent. So less than one in 10 people are actively opposing ESAs. Roughly three and four are supporting ESAs. But demographics are the ones that really surprise me. Just about any sort of contrasting group you might expect show high levels of support for ESAs. For example, I mean there’s high income and low income, low income support at 69 percent, high income at 76 percent. Middle income earners are at 75 percent support. Republican, Democrat, both are over 70 percent support. Rural and urban, both over 70 percent support. Hispanic, Black, white, all over 70 percent support. My favorite one personally, Gen Z and Baby Boomers, in terms of generations, find me something that they can both agree on in American politics. I’d genuinely like for anyone listening to send me something where you can find Gen Z and Baby Boomer support at above 70 percent. Well, that’s ESAs. 

And because most of the opposition in Arkansas to this education savings account program that’s being established like to call it a voucher, there’s also high levels of voucher support that we saw. For example, Republican, Democrat, the majority of Democrats support vouchers, three in four Republicans support vouchers. Rural, 69 percent of rural respondents support vouchers. Urban, 66 percent. There’s high levels of support for vouchers, even though it’s not a voucher program because Arkansas already has a voucher program. So if this were an expansion to that, they would just expand the Succeed Scholarship, but instead they’re creating a whole new thing, education savings account program that people still haven’t seemed to grasp. 

But that is against the grain for me personally, even though that I know and most of you know that education savings accounts are super popular. It is very popular. And I would like for the people that posed the LEARNS Act in Arkansas to just see this and try and see it for what it’s worth, because it’s happening every month. Support for ESAs this month was a little bit of a surprise. It is very high. I mean Gen Z jumped 12 points to 76 percent. But this general trend is there every month. So yeah, that’s my against the grain number, even though it’s not really against the grain. 

Mike McShane: Well, it’s fine. I’m glad you sort of dipped into the demographic data because that’s actually where my against the grain number is coming from this week. I think we published this month our crosstabs file has 535 pages. Again, anybody who’s interested in demographic information, public opinion, it is so much information that you could possibly draw from. 

Colyn Ritter: Some light reading. 

Mike McShane: Light reading, exactly. So we asked a new question this month, I believe it was new this month, about gifted and talented programs. And so we asked how many of your children, if any, are taking at least one gifted, advanced or honors class at his or her school? And what we found was that 48 percent of parents said that they had at least one child in a gifted and talented class. Now, I don’t know if that’s with the grain, against the grain, surprising, unsurprising. I was probably a little surprised by how high that number was. I probably thought it was going to be a little bit lower. But if you think about it, only taking one class, maybe the student isn’t enrolled in all of them. They might only be taking one honors class. It might make sense to see about half of students in those. 

What was against the grain for me was looking into the demographics of who’s participating. So if we looked at the top percentages who said that they had at least one child in a gifted class, what demographic groups were most likely to say that? Now, the top one shouldn’t necessarily surprise us. Private school parents at 71 percent and parents with a bachelor’s degree at 64 percent. Okay, that sort of makes sense. Those at the bottom, the least likely, probably make sense. The two lowest at the bottom are rural and small town, 40 percent of parents that identify in a rural area and only 29 percent of small town. That might make sense. They’re going to smaller schools. They probably don’t have the same sort of breadth of courses that are offered. It’s a sort of long-standing problem in rural schools. 

But what stood out to me was on the next most popular, or the groups that had the highest percentage, you have Hispanic parents at 57 percent, suburban type, 57 percent, and then Black parents at 56 percent. If you’ve been following the news lately, The Wall Street Journal just had this story, I think a week or two ago, talking about how gifted and talented programs, some school districts are shutting them down because not enough Black and Hispanic students are participating in them. And some of this data made me start to think, I wonder if that may be a more isolated case than is true. 

So I went into those demographics and the question is asked in kind of an interesting way because we say, do you have one child in a gifted program, two children or three children? So you have to actually kind of do a little bit of math where I basically had to take all the folks who said that they didn’t have any children and then take the inverse of it to figure out who did. If that makes any sense. Good luck. The long and the short of it is, I did a little math to find out that percentage of families that have at least one child in a gifted class. Here’s the breakdown. We have our four racial and ethnic groups: Black, Asian, white, Hispanic. Black families, 56 percent, they were the most popular, or they were the group that had the highest percentage saying that they had a child in a gifted and talented program. Next was a tie between Asian and Hispanic respondents at 52 percent each and white respondents actually came in last at only 46 percent. 

So again, there’s a bit of an issue because obviously the samples of each of those individual groups is different and their percentages in the general population are different. But I think it’s definitely an against the grain idea. If you asked most observers in education and say, “Hey, we asked our nationally representative sample of parents, ‘if you had a child enrolled in a gifted and talented program?’ We broke it down by race. If you are making guesses as to what races would be most represented or least represented in these, I don’t think that’s necessarily how it would’ve worked out.” And so I think that that’s something that’s important that people should know, actually that white students, only 46 percent of families said that they had one, and it was actually Black families that were most likely to say it at 56 percent. So an against the grain figure. 

So we’ll move on to our next segment, which is the 1.21 gigawatts number that will matter in the future. Colyn, do you have your number that you think we’re going to see more of it in the future, we’re going to see its repercussions in the future? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, I’m glad I got to go first on this one because I’m afraid that it might be a popular one. But mine is going to the question to parents about what would be their preferred weekly schedule and location of their child’s schooling. I think this could have gone in a number of different categories. And I really love this question. It was one of the first things that caught my eye from this report. And what we’ve seen over time since we began asking this question roughly a little over two years ago, a good amount of parents are totally okay and prefer actually having their child learn at home, at least one to four days at home. And now in this February report, we see that 46 percent, so this is now the third straight month where more parents prefer to have their child learn at home at least once a day compared to the traditional schedule of their child five days a week at school. 

So now the gap is widening just a little bit. I’m really curious to see how it will go in the next couple of months because we’ve seen a pattern like this before and then we’ve seen it come crashing back towards equal ground or even the traditional learning schedule overtaking, being the most popular response. But one to four days at home, I mean, I think this correlates really well with the microschooling question, the homeschooling thing you talked about earlier, Mike, in terms of homeschooling support. Parents had their chance to do this during COVID, whether they liked it or not. Their kid was either quarantining or their school closed and kids were learning from home. Parents got a view of that, they understood how it would work. And schools have also kind of hashed that out and been working with that model. 

So I think it’s becoming a little bit more accepted and mainstream. But parents are also now preferring it, at least nearly half of them are. 46 percent is nearly towards the peak at which we saw in March or April of 2021. I’m also rusty on my COVID history, John, I’m not entirely sure which variant that was during, but I mean that peaked at 52 percent. So we’re getting closer to that number. And now this is three straight months of the traditional schooling schedule for children becoming less popular, less preferred in parents’ minds. So I think this is a bit of an interesting fork in the road here. Is this going to continue to switch hands in terms of being the most popular every three or four months, or are we going to see parents continue to prefer, or the majority of parents prefer a little bit of a hybrid schooling schedule for their kids? So this is one that caught my eye for sure. 

Mike McShane: John, yours?  

John Kristof: I’m going to revisit the school choice numbers briefly, just from a little bit of a different angle than what Colyn talked about before. This is perhaps the most national attention that education savings accounts has received because we’re a year into Arizona’s kind of high profile education savings account bill after it was launched. Not really a full year, but we’re kind of fully into it and a pen is being put to paper about that. And as Colyn mentioned, we now have three universal education savings accounts that have been implemented in just this year. So that’s a lot. And a lot of people are writing about education savings accounts now. And it’s a term that not as many people are familiar with as something like school vouchers or charter schools. And we know that because we ask people their questions about their opinions on these things, and we allow them to say, I’ve never heard of this before, and the never heard answer is always highest for ESAs. 

But something that I’ve been on the lookout for is as ESAs get more attention and maybe a little bit more negative attention from people who don’t think choice is a very good idea, will people be maybe less inclined to support it just as part of expressing what they see as a political identification or something like that? And we saw this a little bit in 2016, which was just a very polarized time or right around that time with the presidential race, then of course everything shot back up afterwards. So anyway, I was just wondering if this would look like one of those polarized times or we would see a little bit of a depth in ESA support, specifically since some people are trying to call ESAs vouchers and things like that because they think that vouchers are a more negative marketing term. And so we’re going to call ESAs vouchers and ignore the differences and mechanism. 

And lo and behold, ESA support is up eight percentage points this month over last month. So that’s just not a concern right now among all adults, parents or otherwise. 73 percent support ESAs this month, and of course it is higher among school parents and all the demographics that Colyn talked about earlier. So as we go through the spring, as we go through the legislative session and people are writing what they will about school choice issues and these new bills, it’ll be interesting to see if this changes at all over time. But I think this is a very encouraging sign for people in our kind of position where we really believe in these ideas. But we know that messaging is just a big part of any kind of idea, and it doesn’t really matter what you believe in policy-wise. You understand that messaging is a little bit, which is why ESAs matter and why if you oppose ESAs, you call them vouchers. 

So I think it’s a really encouraging sign that people kind of get it, people get that there is a distinction of people are not necessarily buying into the negativity to the degree that I think opponents of choice and ESAs would hope for. So this’ll be something to watch through the near future in the upcoming months through the legislative session to see if this kind of jump is sustained. Or at the very least, if support is just maintained as what it has been. I think that’s also a very good sign. 

Well over two thirds of the general public and well over three quarters of parents that maintains through all of the newfound attention that ESAs are getting, I think that’s a very good sign that we are right. We put our finger on the pulse correctly here that the customizable education that ESAs provide, which is something that tax credits, scholarships, and charter schools and school vouchers just can’t do to the same degree that resonates with people. We’ve been saying that on this podcast and throughout our organization for a long time, and that idea has appealed to people more than all the other ideas, although the other ideas also receive a lot of support. It’ll be interesting to see how that rides the waves of all the new attention ESAs are getting. 

Mike McShane: John, you also made a top flight meme recently. Those of you that are on Twitter, you guys should find John. He did a fantastic meme expressing his frustration when people confuse or deliberately obfuscate differences between vouchers and ESAs. I don’t want to give the whole thing away. Check out John on Twitter. Top flight meme. 

John Kristof: Combining my love for education freedom and The Last of Us. 

Mike McShane: Yes. Mine is actually a pretty simple one. We’ve been asking this question for a long time about tutoring. I’ve probably used this before as my 1.21 gigawatts, but we asked this question, is your child getting tutoring outside of regular school hours this year? This month, only 14 percent of families said that their kid is getting tutored. I’m just throwing it out there. I think more than 14 percent of American school children need tutoring, like need post pandemic tutoring or just tutoring in general. Probably more kids need that. And so I think that’s going to matter in the future. Right now, 41 percent of families, we sort of put under the umbrella that they either have a tutor, they’re looking for a tutor, they’ll be looking for a tutor soon. So while only 14 percent actually have one, 12 percent are actively looking, another 15 percent said they’ll be looking. 

But even generously, if we say all 41 percent are going to get tutoring, that means 59 percent, which lines up with the 59 percent who said, “My child does not need tutoring at this time.” I have a sneaky suspicion that some of those folks might for reasons that have been documented in the news media and in others, that schools are not necessarily being super transparent about where kids are. I think some, there’s a lot of happy talk going on in schools that it was like, oh, the pandemic wasn’t that bad. We’re back to normal. Everything’s going to be okay. Just from my own reading of the data makes me think that’s probably not true. So I think this is just going to matter in the future. I think that those children that are getting the remediation that they need, getting the tutoring that they need, that is going to bode well for them in the future. 

And some of these students that aren’t could be in for a rude awakening when they sit for the ACT or the SAT, they try and meet with success in college, any of that sort of stuff when they think they’re doing better than they actually were. So I think we’ll be able to look back in the future and say, “Well, who in the aftermath of the pandemic was able to get access to good tutoring? Who didn’t? And how did their paths diverge?” So we’re going to end here. 

Our last thing we’re going to do is sort of lightning round because we’re sort of bumping up on the end of time here. So the last question that we’ll do is what we’ve identified as the most important number to parents, but we’re specifically thinking about parents listening to this podcast, parents looking at our data. What do we think is the number that is most important to parents? John, what is your number that is most important to parents? 

John Kristof: My answer to this is just one of my favorite charts that we have in this whole report, which is we narrow down all the parents who say that they have switched their child’s school at some point. Not counting they graduated from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. Not counting that. So outside of those structural changes, essentially. If you switched your school, what kind of problems was your child experiencing in their previous school, and what kinds of problems is your child experiencing in their current school? And for the third month, bullying is the most cited problem that parents say that their child has experienced at their previous school at 30 percent of parents who have switched their kids’ school saying that that is a problem that their child has experienced. Which aligns I think with something like what Colyn mentioned earlier about reasons parents choose schools with safe environment being such a high priority for parents who are in a non-public setting. 

So bullying is the most cited problem at former schools. 30 percent and in comparison, only 20 percent of parents who have switched say that their child is experiencing that in their current school, which you’d like to see that number a lot lower, but it is a third lower. The next most cited reasons were essentially tied with academic needs not being met or excessive stress and anxiety. Both of those, a quarter of kids who switched, were experiencing that in their previous school. Kids were fairly likely to be also experiencing stress and anxiety at their current school, but it was five percentage points lower, that’s a drop of like a fifth. And there was a huge difference between former and current school when it came to academic needs not being met. So switching school seems to be really effective in making sure that a kid’s academic needs are met. When a parent picks a new school for the kid, they’re able to find something that meets the academic needs better, essentially. 

So I think this is really important to keep in mind as we talk about parents who are seeking something different. It is a lot of time just a very sensitive issue to making sure that their kid is doing well, whether it’s short term with just trying to do well socially and emotionally with bullying or stress and anxiety. Those are really serious things that parents would have to consider that I think it is empathetic policy to try to figure out how to empower parents to get their kids in an environment where they’re not experiencing those things on a daily basis. Because if you are experiencing those things, you are not learning very well. Or even if you’re not experiencing those things and you’re not learning very well, school’s not doing what it’s supposed to for you. I think it is just good empathetic policy to listen to what parents are saying the problems are. 

And you have to imagine all the parents who have not been able to switch schools for their kids. Whether they can’t afford tuition, they can’t afford to move, and how many kids are experiencing bullying or excessive stress and anxiety in their current school, and they still have to go into that environment every day? That’s something that we would be really concerned about if an adult was going into a work environment where they were being bullied or experiencing stress and anxiety every day. And I think we should have that same empathy for children of all people in our society. So I think it’s just good policy to listen to this and recognize these are the problems, the biggest problems that parents are saying that they’re facing at previous schools, and it’s good policy to empower trying to get something else to happen so kids can grow to their best selves.  

Mike McShane: Colyn, what number do you think should matter the most to parents? 

Colyn Ritter: I really like that one from John, and it’s funny you brought up Last of Us memes. There’s a scene in one of the middle episodes where Joel is talking to Ellie and he says, “You deserve a choice” very explicitly, and with subtitles it can easily become a medium. I’m like, oh, wow. Joel’s a school choice guy, even in an apocalyptic world. But John mentioned a really good status, the fact that many of these issues that these parents are facing and these children are facing and their parents are reporting are not happening as frequently at their new school. So I think that highlights one, just the importance of having options, but also understanding what options you have in your state. So we’ve been asking a really, really good question in our school-choice section of the report, asking parents about choice policies and if they’re aware of any of the following types of choice in the state that they live in. So charter schools and open enrollment are relatively mainstream compared to ESAs choice programs that parents are pretty aware of. Vouchers, parents are more aware of than ESAs, but less so than charter schools, for example. But ESAs, there are more responses in states that don’t have ESAs than vice versa. So that’s worth noting. But in states that do have ESAs, parents are equally as likely to incorrectly state that they don’t have an ESA program than they are to correctly state that they are aware of the ESA program in their state. So half of parents don’t know that there’s an ESA program in their states. 

Why is that the case? It could be because opposition of choice, is calling them vouchers. It could just be that marketing ESAs is difficult, which those within the school of choice movement do know that marketing is becoming a very big part of the equation that is absolutely going to be needed to be solved at some point or at least worked on positively and try and alleviate that issue because that is a barrier of helping parents get these options is if they even know or how to use them. And a lot of great parents are doing a lot of great work over the states that we work with, and I want to shout them out. But half of these response in states that do have ESAs are unaware that they have that program in their state. So this is not new. Many of us know that this marketing and understanding of ESAs is an issue, but it’s worth noting for parents for sure, especially as states like Arkansas, and Iowa, and Utah pass really good ESA bills. 

Mike McShane: Well, I’ll close out the number that stood out for me that I think parents need to know. We’ve been asking a question for a long time, asking parents about how well their students have been progressing across their academic learning, their social development, their emotional development. But recently, because these numbers have been pretty high, so like this last month, thinking of their own children, 49 percent of parents said in the past year, their children have been progressing very well academically. 44 percent said so for social development, 42 percent for emotional development. And again, because we thought these numbers were kind of high, we use an old polling technique where we asked, “Well, instead of thinking about your children, think about your friends’ children. How do you think your friends’ children are doing?” And the numbers drop precipitously. So academic learning, it drops nine points. Social development, it drops six points. Emotional development, it drops eight points. 

Which makes me think that people I think are more optimistic about their kids. They’re sort of tied up in their own identity and their own actions, how well their kids are doing. So they may be looking with slightly rose colored glasses. I think those numbers are maybe a little bit closer to what they’re seeing for their friends’ children. If I had to pick which number I think more accurately described the reality out there, that’s the number I’m probably going with. And so that tells us that maybe kids aren’t doing as well as we may have previously thought. I think parents should really be thinking about that. And if you think all of your friends’ kids are doing not as well as your kid is, it’s possible that your child might not be doing as well as you previously thought that they were, or it’s not. 

It could be an anomaly, but we need to be careful in thinking when we make sort of broader views of how we think the education system is doing for your child, for other people’s kids, and sort of adjust accordingly. Well, look, John, Colyn, a pleasure as always. Thanks everyone for listening. Thank you so much to Jacob, our fantastic podcast producer. Look forward to talking with y’all next month where we’ll have more data on some of these questions. Will be really interesting to see how these things are going, all the stuff that we highlighted this month. And I look forward to chatting with all of you again on another edition of Ed Choice Chats.