The seventh annual edition of our Schooling in America Survey with Braun Research launched today. Get caught up on the key findings according to the report’s authors—Paul DiPerna, Drew Catt and Mike Shaw—on your commute, over lunch or whenever you listen to your podcasts.
Drew Catt: Hi, I’m Drew Catt, EdChoice’s director of state research and special projects. I’m back today for another EdChoice Chat, speaking with Paul DiPerna and Mike Shaw. Paul is EdChoice’s vice president of research and innovation, and Mike is EdChoice’s research analyst. The three of us are co-authors of EdChoice’s newest report, 2019 Schooling In America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Busing, Technology, and School Choice. Thanks for joining me today, gentlemen.
Paul DiPerna: It’s great to be here.
Mike Shaw: Yeah, thanks, Drew.
Paul DiPerna: It’s nice that we’re all in the same studio room, I think it’s the first time at least for the three of us.
Drew Catt: Yeah, it’s been awhile. So, let’s not belabor this, let’s jump right in, Paul. So, would you start off, by telling the listeners about our annual polling project and how long we’ve been undertaking it?
Paul DiPerna: Sure. So we have been doing a survey of the general population now for seven years. And so, the project that we call Schooling in America dates back to 2012. And unlimited questionnaire and survey. And then we went full blown in 2013 and so we have been doing this for some time now, asking some of the same questions year to year.
And then, each year we like to have special topics. This year we asked them questions about busing and technology and we also like to hone in on some special populations. And so over the years we’ve really tried to highlight the responses from parents of school age children. And so that’s an important demographic for us to track and to better understand, as well as teachers. So, starting last year and continuing this year for 2019, we’ve been surveying current public school teachers. So that’s another important demographic that we would like to continue following in years moving forward.
Drew Catt: I would like to clarify for the listeners, that we are not polling the exact same people every single year. And in fact, we kind off changed our methods a little bit a few years ago. Would you mind talking a little bit about that for a minute, Paul?
Paul DiPerna: Sure. Yeah, that’s right. For a while we were doing live telephone-only surveys, of a randomized samples of the general population—so, American adults age 18 and older. Last year we changed our approach a little bit, and we went to a mixed-mode approach and by mixed mode that means that we are not only doing live telephone, but we are also doing our surveys via the internet and online panels.
And this is becoming a more common practice in the polling and survey research industry, because there are certain populations that gravitate towards different modes. And so, the older population and even slightly more rural population, small town population, it’s easier to survey and complete interviews by phone. And then on the online panel, that’s where you find a lot of the younger generations, and a slightly more urban population.
And so the industry is really in a state of flux, and in terms of trying to figure out the best way to achieve these nationally representative samples. And so we have a random digit dial phone population of 608 individuals who completed our survey. Seventy percent were by cell phone, 30 percent landline. And then, we also completed a larger sample online, where we were able to achieve 1,202 completes of the general population. And also we did the survey of public school teachers via online panel and we had a sample of 601 teachers completing our survey.
Drew Catt: Yeah, that’s great to be a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research where we’re able to keep up with some of these trends and great to work with a polling partner and Braun Research whose able to get this accomplished for us.
Paul DiPerna: Braun Research has been a wonderful partner,that we’ve been working together with on our national polling as well as some state polling for about a decade now. And so, we’d say that’s been a really good relationship and partnership for us
Mike Shaw: And the nice thing about that relationship and our membership is we’re able to provide more in depth information via our topline results and methodology on our website, which we’ve been doing for the past few years on our website on Schooling in America. Which is nice to see for those interested in the nuts and bolts of the polling industry. But the fun part is really just digging into the results and the number of years we’ve been doing this now we see some interesting trend lines for some of our choice and other related questions.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up Mike, because we make it a point to include our questionnaire on our website, where you can find the Schooling in America publication, but the questionnaire and the top line results are in a separate document, really accessible document. And then we always welcome those of you in the public, listeners and readers of the reports that you’ll follow up with us by email or with a phone call if you have any questions or if you’d like to see even deeper dives and the particular demographic results or other aspects of the survey.
Drew Catt: All right, so let’s get into some of these results. So, Mike, this is your third time working on the project. What stood out to you this time around?
Mike Shaw: I kind of look at the results into buckets, but as I was alluding to earlier, there’s a fair amount of questions and kind of topic areas, which we’ve polled on consistently during the three years I’ve been part of the project as well as even going back to 2012, 2013 from the onset of the project. That grouping is kind of the parental experiences and the choice related questions related to the different twist policies. And on that front, what stood out was the support levels of specific choice policies.
In particular ESAs being at an all-time high, but then also the fact that our don’t know responses related to these choice policies seems to be declining relative to recent years. And Paul, maybe you can provide insight, if the mixed mode approach or any other kind of change to our methodology might be impact in that. But I do like to think that with education choice being in the national news more and more in recent years, that folks are at least forming opinions on these policies, which is interesting from a polling standpoint.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, and I think and just to follow it up Mike. I think that we did see over time the don’t knows—or those who do who were unsure about their responses on the school choice policies slightly going down. And then, this is something we have talked about looking into a little bit more, but just to see if there is a mode-off effect. In terms of dampening those who take the online survey are more inclined to give a response. But both modes offer the option to skip or to say don’t know. And so we always wanted to make that an option.
Drew Catt: Yeah, because for some people it’s easier to click a mouse, than to say a few words.
Paul DiPerna: That’s right. But yeah, I like how you put it in terms of putting these questions that we ask in different buckets.
These questions that we have been asking since, roughly the beginning of the survey seven years ago; the school choice questions and the parental experience questions, we started asking a few years ago. And they’re pretty consistent. We still see a lot of satisfaction among parents for their own children’s schools, regardless of type. We did see a dip in the response by homeschoolers and it could be just a blip.
Year -to-year that can be attributed to the margin of error, any kind of sampling effects but we’ll see. That’s something that look for next year to see if that becomes over two or three years a trend. But by and large we see four out of five saying that they’re satisfied with their schools. We asked why they chose the school that they did, and there’s some differences among school type. And so, academic reputation seemed to be really important, and a safe environment seemed to be really important among private schoolers.
I safe environment was also very important for homeschoolers. And so that seems to resonate. Just my impression is that reason is more resonant than recent years. Perhaps with what’s been broadcast in the news and external events happening, concerns about school safety and shootings and so forth. We’d see among public charter schools, parents also value reputation. Almost three out of 10, said that they want their school to be located near their home or their place of work.
And that proximity was even more important among those who had their children in public district schools. So, about half rated that as a very important reason for why they had their children in those public schools.
Drew Catt: So, that’s just of the current experiences. So, every year we also ask parents if it was your choice—we always do a split wording experiment about like if phones and transportation were an issue, but that’s not verbatim—what school would you choose for your child?
And we’ve seen, now that we’ve been able to track this since 2012, that consistently—’at least since 2013—there’s always a stronger preference for private school, than there is for public district school. And another fascinating thing is the last two years, it seems that there’s a very slightly more of a preference for home schooling than charter schools. I’m curious as to why and I don’t have an answer for these questions. But curious as to why, there’s both been an uptake in those preferring home schools in public charter schools and why the home schooling preference has overtaken the charter school preference.
Mike Shaw: Yeah. It’s interesting you say that Drew, because best I can tell there hasn’t been a large shock or shift in the proportion of the charter school sector or the home-school sectors since we started polling this question more than five years ago. So, I’m not exactly sure why it is either, but it is interesting to note. And I think in general, the home-school parents are the preferences who show a preference for home schooling, they do seem to not quite be outliers, but do show distinct preferences related to their children’s education. I think we have observed that and in recent years.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, I think it’s important to note. I mean, this year the difference is small. And so I think that’s something that we have to be kind of cautious about where the differences are really within the margin of error. So, statistically a tie between charter school and home school, which I think is noteworthy in itself, especially the amount of attention that’s given to charter schools and new stories. And even among education reformers.
So, this year, 15 percent said they prefer a home school, 14 percent said public charter school. And they’d been kind off toggling back and forth over the last few years. But the absolute trend, I mean it does seem like there is an increase, especially looking back, say back to 2015. We’re seeing an increased preference for both of those types of schools. And then we see a plurality of those preferring private school. And it’s roughly a tie with those who prefer public districts—so, 38 percent private school, 33 percent public district school.
But that’s noteworthy, and I think that we tried to point that in the report and this is the impression interpretation that we’ve made over the years, is that there just is a big disconnect between what parents say they prefer in terms of the type of school and what we actually see in terms of real world enrollments and what’s actually going on. Where four out of five kids are in public district schools. As we said a minute ago, 33 percent said that they prefer public district school.
And roughly, just about 10 percent of kids are in private schools. But we see almost quadruple that proportion saying that they prefer private schools. And so, from our perspective and especially from our organization and the work that we do, that’s something that really is important to us because it just shows that the, you know, private preferences and parental preferences are not aligning and not being reinforced by what’s out there in the real world. And it appears that there’s a lot of structural inertia that’s preventing parents from pursuing what they would like for their child’s education.
Drew Catt: I think it’s also fascinating that we didn’t just look at all current parents and ask for their preferences, but we also asked the current public school teachers what their preferences were. And yeah, more of them said that they would prefer a public district school, but it’s still less than half. Less than half of public school teachers would prefer a public district school for their child. And almost four out of 10 would prefer a private school.
Paul DiPerna: And I think that’s just counterintuitive. And that surprised me, too. I mean I expected a higher number saying that they would prefer a public district school, but it just shows that the teachers, they also have these very diverse views and diverse set of preferences across different types of schooling. And so they’re not a monolithic population by any means. And the survey results that we were reporting or I think showing that.
Mike Shaw: And Drew you noted, during the writing of this report, I thought something that was really insightful, that these public school teachers—maybe it’s obvious as well as insightful—but when they are parents, they are primarily parents first and public school teachers is an occupation within that role. But interestingly we were able to have some comparables between public school teachers and our parents’ sample and a variety of other questions, notably the use of technology of America’s school children, which Paul, maybe just a preface to results here.
This was kind of like that second bucket I was talking about earlier of a new question set that we haven’t tackled quite before. Why did we take on children’s use of technology as a survey topic for 2019?
Paul DiPerna: That’s a great question. I mean I think that, as we were brainstorming ideas for new topics and new subjects to explore in our survey. That it appears that technology use in schools, and among students and among teenagers appears to be more and more of a concern. Whether it’s among the parents or among school professionals, teachers, administrators, and how they can be helpful in the classroom, but then they can also be very distracting. And I think as more research is done about how technology affects our brains and our attention, it seems like that’s starting to be a more salient topic among reformers and other folks who are concerned about education issues, particularly in K–12 education, for youngsters’ use of technology.
And so, we did ask different sets of questions about just whether you’re a parent or a teacher and if you are a parent looking at own child. If you’re a teacher looking at your students in your classroom and asking how much they’re concerned, about various types of uses of technology. And what that may be doing to say their social behaviors or ability to communicate interpersonally with others, affecting schoolwork. And then asking how confident teachers and parents are in terms of disciplining or setting up those guardrails around technology. So, we had some really interesting results.
Drew Catt: Yeah. It was really interesting that the teachers were significantly more likely than parents to be worried about the technology use of their students or with the children. But it was the parents that were significantly more likely to actually do something. Like take away their cell phone or internet privileges as punishment. So, it’s the teachers that have the concern and the worry, but it’s the parents that actually feel that they can do something about it.
Mike Shaw: Yeah. That latter result maybe wasn’t as surprising to me, because I would imagine a lot of teachers aren’t comfortable taking personal property away from a student. Even if it is distracting or disruptive to the classroom, they might resort to other measures, whereas a parent is able to kind of have that more one-to-one discipline relationship. But, yeah, Drew I totally agree regarding the worry component.
And even just breaking that down a little bit more, we kind of asked the worry question related to technology use in a variety of different ways. Almost three-fourths of teachers worried that their students would be sharing too much about their personal life online, and just about half of parents and still the majority, but half of parents had that same concern.
And then 63 percent of teachers were concerned students were being harassed or bullied online, and it was less than half of that of parents had that same concern. And then lastly related to this kind of worry technology issue we polled about, we had more than six in 10 teachers worry about, like Paul has mentioned, the impairment with technology use of the ability to communicate properly and kind of just develop those interpersonal skills of students, due to kind of technology use. And then again, it was less than half of parents having that concern. So, I wonder if they’re just like different observables in the classroom or students just behave differently. But there was a distinction definitely.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah. I’m wondering if it is about perspective. Classroom teacher will have some sense, and they’ll see 20-25 students and how they use technology and they probably see a full range of how those students are using technology from appropriate to very inappropriate. And the parent will have one or two depending on the children in the household. And they may feel like they have a lot more control, too, because they have one or two children to be worried about. Teachers have, 20-25 or more if they have different classrooms. And so teachers also would have other types of external constraints from the school or the district or the administration where parents are their own authority.
So, it’s interesting to go a little bit far beyond what we can read in the, in the survey results. But I think it could be interesting for further exploration by other researchers. You can do a deeper dive than we do.
Drew Catt: And what do you really do when all of a sudden some new phone game comes out in your high school teacher and trying to control all of your students playing Mario kart. That’s what my wife, who is a public high school teacher, experienced the other month. But I’m wondering how much this connects to the fact that the parents are significantly more likely than the teachers to say that they feel confident in their knowledge of what their students experience and do online on whether or not like that confidence that they know what’s happening leads them to worrying less. I don’t know. That’s an interesting thought.
Paul DiPerna: I think that’s a reasonable speculation. I think it’s suggestive, but is far beyond the scope of the survey research that we’re doing. But hopefully, and that’s one of the hopes that we have from Schooling in America, is that some of the findings—and we’re happy to provide the cross tabs and data, too, based on the surveys. But that this can trigger research questions, maybe other types of deeper dive polling.
Drew Catt: So, speaking of triggers, let’s get into some of the more controversial topics. Especially let’s look at the difference in teachers and parents on some of the questions was illuminating. So, recently in the news, over the past year or two, there has been a common theme and many states of teacher strikes or walkouts for a pay increase. And we did a split sample experiment. Basically, we took the populations and asked half one question and half another. And the first baseline question without information that we asked round the strikes and walkouts was, “If public school teachers in your community were to go on strike or walk out for a 10 percent pay increase, to what extent would you favor or oppose their actions?”
And then the other half of the people got the same question except, before it is proceeded with, “According to the most recent information available on average public school, teachers earn $60,483 in the United States.” So, without knowing the average salary and with knowing the average salary, it’s kind of fascinating how teachers—albeit most likely due to self-interest—trend in a different direction than the general population and parents.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, we saw, and this pretty clear on the slope graph in the report. Among the general population, we see an eight point decrease from 63 to 55. And then among current school parents, four point decrease from 62 to 58. So, definitely a difference we can see between at least the general public and parents compared to current public school teachers on that experiment.
Mike Shaw: I’m not sure if this would explain any of the differences between teachers and parents fees related to this issue, Paul and Drew. But with these current event questions, I always do wonder what effect, if any, that the timing of the polling being conducted may have on results or… especially related to kind of trend line questions. We did ask a similar question last year with our first ever teachers sample for our Schooling in America series.
So, I know we were able to go into the field with the survey this summer, and maybe an interesting time because school’s classes were in session and so best I know teachers weren’t striking or striking as they do via classroom disruptions because there were new classrooms full in America schools. But yeah, I’m wondering what effect that might have had on the results because we did kind of go to the field a bit earlier than the normal. But the flip side of that is I think we went to the field in a really opportune time for another kind of controversial subject matter, that I’m sure we have some interesting results to talk about. And that’s related to busing.
Drew Catt: Yeah, this is, this is one where the timing was extremely fortuitous. So, those of you that don’t necessarily pay attention to political debates may have missed out on the fact that one of the themes, I believe it was at the first large democratic debates?
Paul DiPerna: I think so.
Drew Catt: … was around inter-district busing.
Paul DiPerna: One, it was for busing and as even a little bit more specific than that, it was busing for the purpose of integration. And so this is what we call an enduring issue in our survey. This is an issue that goes back to the late 60s and 70s when it was really controversial, much more so than it is today. In places like Boston, and in some other urban areas where school districts were mandated, typically by court order, to establish transportation systems in order to integrate public schools and district schools. And so, there really hasn’t been recent polling on this issue in recent years.
Gallup had been polling on this issue through about the mid-90s, and then really for the last 15 or so years it’s been minimal. And so we thought that… and this was right around the time we were developing the questionnaire. And so we thought it would be interesting to at least ask a couple questions to the general public, about a current “hot topic,” and to see how the general public and parents and teachers feel about busing.
And we did similar to the question about the teacher strikes and walkouts and protests, and giving information or not information. We did another experiment, this time a three-way experiment. On our busing question where we started with a baseline, very straightforward busing question about transporting students across district lines. And then we continued to build some language on that one question, to see what the effects of including language about the purpose. So, for the purpose of, integration along racial, ethnic and even economic lines.
And then the third version build on top of that, saying how that would be done, and that was by mandate. And so, we have a slope graph in the report that really illustrates how those three populations that we really have been taking a strong interest to the general public parents and teachers and how they differ, as you move across those different versions of the busing question.
Drew Catt: Yeah. The thing that stood out to me, on the basic, “Do you favor or oppose the busing of school children from one school district to another?” Just that without the integration, without the mandate, less than half of the general public—slightly less 49 percent, it could be about half. About half of school parents, 46 percent, were in opposition. Sixty-three percent, almost two out of three public school teachers, oppose this basic inter-district busing. And that’s without including any language around integration or without including any language about it being mandatory integration. I’m still flummoxed by this.
Mike Shaw: It’s tough for me to get engaged on that, Drew. Because like Paul mentioned, this hasn’t necessarily been a hot button issue for years and hasn’t really been polled in recent years either. I made an effort to go back to around 2011-2012 to Gallup’s and some of your larger polling vendors to see if this issue had been polled on. Just when kind of doing a literature review or just compilation of other national polls, and I didn’t really find anything.
And it is kind of funny how these issues that does seem dormant or due to court cases may have been resolved kind of bubble up in the public conscience again due to political shocks like we observed in the democratic primary debates. And even with that, there are strong views related to this policy. But again, this is just another issue where we are kind of seeing this parent-teacher divide and maybe understandably so. It is, teachers workplaces and they may have been used to, a certain status quo related to busing policies, kind of dissipating over the years. But with this becoming a policy debate once again, it’s certainly is something worth monitoring.
Drew Catt: And the thought just occurred to me, that teachers are more likely than the general population to have learned about why the busing for integration happened in the first place through some of their school of ed courses
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, and through their own experiences, too. I’m glad you pointed out, Drew. I mean, so across the three versions, the public school teacher response to busing is stable within the margin of error. And so like you said, doesn’t really matter how we worded the question, almost two-thirds are opposed to busing across district lines. Where for the general public and for school parents, there is a shift. Where, the general question like you said is almost half are opposed and about the same support.
But then you see a jump in the opposition for those two populations, where 55 percent of the general public, 52 percent of school parents are opposed for racial or economic integration. And then roughly the same numbers when you include the mandatory language. But you are left with this question, like why the differences between public school teachers and other populations? And this is just speculation on my part. But I mean, I do wonder if through their own experience—maybe through what they’ve learned in their own kind of coursework or professional development, continuing education.
But I think just their experiences—and this is just from what we’ve observed as my wife and I, we have our girls in a public school. And it’s a pretty large school district, and the transportation system is pretty elaborate in the design and it’s all set at the district level. And I just do wonder if like public school teachers they have this fatigue or just this wariness of district-wide types of policies and things that affect their students.
And when you’re talking about even like, including other districts and what that might entail. And then we asked teachers who they trust. And it’s pretty clear that the further away the stakeholders, you know, the different groups of people that we had asked about who they trust, the further away they are from the classroom, the less trust teachers have. And so, anything coming from like the district, the state legislature, U.S. Department of Education. I mean they have less trust in those stake holders. And so, you just wonder if that kind of policy making and setting a policy. And maybe it’s not as much as specific to the busing, but it’s just those kinds of mandates. They’re just wary of that and how it affects their kids.
Drew Catt: And I’m also interested in kind of going back into the teacher cross tab, and looking to see if any generational differences amongst teachers exist. Because we did find that on the same question, switching from talking about the opposition. Let’s switch and talk about the favorability and transition to talking about a different population that we oversampled. So, before we get into the results would one of y’all mind talking about our oversample of Gen Z and Millennials? I think you’re the… well, I mean, I also I’m one. But Mike, you’re a Millennial, so go for it.
Mike Shaw: Yeah. So, well, I thought your comment about distance regarding like this and from the education center being the school. Regarding teacher trusts was pressing related to our Gen Z millennial results related to busing. But even just leading to the differences of our sample in general. Because Gen Z and millennials are closer to school age obviously than older generations.
And we did see roughly half, regardless of question wording, being supportive of busing, but opposition was much higher for baby boomers and Gen X as well. But yeah, we did something pretty interesting this year. We’ve had millennial over samples before and they’ve been split out as part of our age demographic breakouts for years. Because they’ve been in every teen and therefore survey able population for a number of years. But Gen Z was a new one, that’s the generation after the millennials, the generation after my own. And they’re the ones that are just coming out of high school and entering the workplace and are freshest when it comes to having schooling experiences.
So, we asked a distinct grouping of questions related to schooling experiences and just time usage for both Gen Z and Millennials. And in general, they were satisfied with their schooling experiences, in particular their high school experiences. Two-thirds of each generation, the Gen Z and Millennials, said they were satisfied with high school. Only one in 10 word said they were very dissatisfied.
But the interesting thing about that, is their schooling experiences related to sectors, which we were describing before. I don’t want to say different but they are expressing, I think the different sector approaches favored by parents and the general public as described before. But yeah, it was an interesting sample, and insightful one, that is just kind of becoming in the precipice of being surveyed regularly related to public opinion in general and certainly with schooling experiences.
Drew Catt: Last thing back to the busing, because this is the one that sticks out to me the most in my mind. Those in Gen Z and Millennials—so, while it was two thirds of teachers opposed the busing regardless of how the question was asked. More than half of Gen Z and more than half of Millennials favored busing, no matter how the question was asked. And again back to the whole like, “Oh, teachers maybe learned about it in school.” And there’s that potential effect that it’s more likely that those in Gen Z and those that are Millennials are unfamiliar with the historical busing for the sake of integration.
Paul DiPerna: To follow up on the busing. I mean, there are differences between the generations for sure on the busing question where we see six out of 10 Gen Z and Millennials supporting busing and the kind of baseline, very general wording about busing across district lines in the inner district busing in a broad sense.
But we see a little bit of a dampening of support for busing by about 10 points, even across the board when you added the wording about for the purpose, whether it’s for integration, racial, economic integration. And then interestingly enough like an uptake or flatlining for the youngest generations when you included the mandatory. But like you said though, it is hovering around like half, that are still supportive among the Gen Z and Millennial groups.
Drew Catt: Yeah, that’s very interesting. When you contrast with the baby boomers that only about a third are supportive of just inner district busing in general and that drops down to a quarter when it’s mandatory and for racial or economic integration.
Paul DiPerna: And those are the folks we are going to have living memory of what happened in the late -60s and throughout the 70s and, and just the kind of political turbulence that drummed up. Yeah. I think that’s interesting. Also, to take a step back, I mean when we were referring to Gen Z, those are the respondents who are born 1997 or later. And so, we used Pew Research Centers, definitions of generations. And so Gen Z was 1997 or later, and Millennials born in 1981 to 1996. I just want to clear with the listeners on who those people were, and we did over sampled both of those groups so that we had the best samples where the margins of error are roughly around four plus or minus four points for those two groups. So, we could have some pretty reliable readings on busing, and then also on school choice policies and other issues that we explored.
Drew Catt: Yeah, let’s pivot to that. So, keeping with the generations and let’s move on to school choice. So, the main types that we ask about are education savings accounts, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and charter schools. And if you’re interested in the wording, we have a sidebar and the report that uses the exact wording that we used in the polls.
But really it’s kind of interesting when you’re looking at the generational differences when it comes to awareness of these programs. So, these are the folks that said that they never heard of the program type, when they were first asked the questions before they were given a definition. And about half of those in Gen Z have never even heard of school vouchers.
Compared to between a quarter and a third of those in Gen X and Baby Boomers, which is just fascinating.
Mike Shaw: Yeah. Especially considering… and again it’s not like these programs, to have mild-deep penetration throughout every state or demographic group, but these would be with the modern voucher being relatively new, these would be the generations that we’re actually using these choice programs. But it is an interesting distinction. You point out Drew that they were more likely to be unfamiliar with the various education choice reforms.
Drew Catt: Yeah. And it’s the both Gen Z and Millennials were more likely to have heard of ESAs than vouchers.
Paul DiPerna: And part of me wonders if they’ve heard of ESAs because that’s something that’s a term that’s also used in higher ed and post-secondary. And it’s a different type of policy or program and depending on the state and so forth. And so it has different meaning between elementary and secondary education or K–12 and then compared to higher ed. But perhaps they’re at least aware of the term, just because they’re 18- to 22-year-olds in the Gen Z category.
But yeah, I thought that was interesting. I mean, support really is very strong across the generations looking at different trends, but particularly among Gen Z, Millennials and Gen Xers, education savings accounts, about four out of five, around 80 percent depending on the generation, say they support ESAs.
And that’s pretty similar to the general public. About two thirds are supportive of vouchers, and seven out of 10 support tax-credit scholarships and two thirds are supportive of charter schools, roughly of those three generations. And then you do see some relatively lower support by six to 10 points, among Baby Boomers and the silent generation.
And those results tend to be lower than the general public on across those four types of school choice policies that we had asked about. But to me, I always look at the margins, and the margins are striking regardless of what population you’re looking at. And so, we see for example on education savings accounts among Gen Xers, there’s a 69-point gap between those who favor and oppose ESAs.
And the smallest gap is still 37 points among the silent generation. And so that really tells you that they are much more likely… When you see those big margins that tells you that these folks, regardless of the demographic, are much more likely to support these policies than to oppose them.
Drew Catt: And those not familiar with all the jargon. The margin is, if I’m correct, Paul, just the percent of those that favor minus the percent that oppose. So, a large positive margin means that there is most likely going to be significantly more people that favor or support the policy than oppose it.
Paul DiPerna: That’s right. It’s just the simple difference between the positive and the negative responses.
Mike Shaw: And Paul, would you say these bars reserve margins for choice policies? Will you say they are outliers or have normal related to education, policy polling, are there any comparables related to other sorts of education policies within those large margins or are folks significantly opinionated about these policies related to others?
Paul DiPerna: That’s a great question. So, we have our questions that we ask about these different types of policies. And then the EdNext Poll, they released their results a couple months ago, right as the school year was going. And they also ask questions about vouchers and about tax credits and charter schools and they have differently worded questions. And they also have different ways of the response options that the folks who were taking the survey, those appeared a little bit differently. And so that can affect to some degree the positive or negative sentiment or neutrality on these issues.
So, we see it in the EdNext Poll, they still found that there was increased support for universal vouchers in a differently worded question. And that’s what we’ve seen fairly stable, but high support for universal vouchers in our poll. So, the general takeaways from both polls are similar wherein the specific numbers, and the levels are different. And even the in the margins are a little bit different, but the takeaways appear to be right in line with each other.
And right now these are the only national polls that are really… the American Federation for Children, don’t want to forget them. They have a national poll that comes out as well, usually around January or February. And they also show similar high levels of support for vouchers. And so even though the wording of the questions are different, the questionnaires and how they order the questions, that’s another thing to take into consideration. The samples can vary a little bit, but the general takeaways are the same.
Drew Catt: So, let’s get a little bit of the comparison across programs. So, we’ve been asking about vouchers, charter schools, tax-credit scholarships in the ESAs since 2013. And it’s fascinating to me how, overall one is more favored than another given year to year. But it seems that there’s been a bit of a trend that’s emerged over the past few years, and that is that ESAs are by far the most favorite type.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah. We’ve seen higher levels of support for ESAs as compared to the other types of policies. And we’ve seen a bounce back for charter schools in recent years. That EdNext Poll, so it has found a bounce back for charter schools in their poll as well. And then you know, vouchers they’re at relatively an all-time high and in our polling and almost two thirds supporting school vouchers and tax credit scholarships, also high levels of support.
But it does appear at least for now at ESAs perhaps because it’s still a relatively new type of policy in K–12 and reform in K–12. But there is a significant difference between the ESAs and the other types of school choice programs.
Drew Catt: And there’s even a difference when we focus on ESAs, when we ask about the type of ESA and the type of policy. It’s another one of those wording experiments. This one we’ve kind of done for several years focused on ESAs, where the wording differences, should the ESAs be available to all families regardless of income and special needs. And the other version is ESAs should be available only to families based on financial need.
And year to year, we’ve only been asking this specific to ESAs, we used to ask it about vouchers. We’ve been asking about ESAs since 2015, so we have five years of data. And every single year there’s at least about a 19- to 20-percent difference between those agreeing with universal ESAs and those agreeing with needs-based ESAs.
Mike Shaw: And I think that’s just interesting from a policy and program design perspective because, Drew, like you said they are the newest of our private school choice programs that we track. But while there have been attempts or examples of universal vouchers or tax-credit scholarships with broad eligibility requirements. There hasn’t really been at least an operable universally ESAs on which the public or even educational reformers in general can point to, as far as being a success or just an example of how this policy could work in practice.
But despite that, Drew, you’re right, the result does hold, and it’s interesting to think about how that might inform policy design implications going forward. Because these programs are in general difficult to pass within states, but then this might inform that design to garner the broader public support needed to sustain these programs from election cycle to election cycle.
Drew Catt: Yeah, I mean the fact that about three out of four prefer universal ESAs, while only half would prefer needs-based ESAs. I would think that would potentially inform future policy discussions and decisions.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah. I mean this is the first report that we actually show the trends on this two responses and is interesting to see that there’s increases for both, in terms of supporting for your universal or supporting needs-based ESAs. But I mean, so we’ve seen an eight-point increase on universal ESAs since 2015 and we’ve seen a 13-point increase for needs based ESAs.
But I think the broader point, the bigger point that you guys made about policy implications for policy design, and for policymaking and considerations is important. Because once you get up to the three out of four supporting something that should be meaningful, I would think, to a policymaker and give them some strength, or some fortification in there. Maybe if they’re already inclined towards a universal ESA.
Drew Catt: I mean I think it’s also meaningful here in our office, a place where our mission is advancing universal access to these programs. We champion universal school choice. So, it’s great to see that we’re not alone in favoring universal programs.
Paul DiPerna: Yeah, I mean it definitely gives a lot of credence and support to our mission but we still have a lot of work to do. A few minutes ago we were talking about, the proportions of saying they don’t know about whether it’s ESAs or vouchers or charter schools and other types of policies.
And so there’s a lot of education for us to do about these programs generally. But then when it comes to the thing that, when the design considerations around eligibility and universality, but this is something that we need to talk about even more in moving forward.
Drew Catt: Yeah. And if you’re interested in having a conversation about this, feel free to reach out to any of us over email. All of our information is on our website and if you see us giving a talk, giving a presentation, if you see us at a conference, feel free to come up and talk to us about our research. We love having conversations around this and I don’t know, personally, I love the face-to=face interactions. There’s only so far that you can get having a back and forth over Twitter.
Paul DiPerna: And it’s face-to-face here. Sometimes we’re doing this by remote, through the phone. So. it’s great to have all of us here in the same room, being able to talk about these results.
Mike Shaw: Definitely.
Drew Catt: Yeah. So, thanks to you both for your time today and thanks for the great conversation.
Paul DiPerna: Thanks, Drew.
Mike Shaw: Yep. Thanks, Drew.
Drew Catt: Well, that wraps up this edition of EdChoice Chats. Be sure to check out the description of this podcast for a link to our report and be sure to subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to them so you never miss another episode. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you back soon with more EdChoice Chats.