Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., are more polarized today than they have been in nearly a century. And among the general public, party identification remains the single most powerful predictor of people’s opinions about a wide range of policy issues. Given this environment, reaching consensus on almost any issue of consequence would appear difficult. And when it comes to education policy, which does a particularly good job of stirring people’s passions, opportunities for advancing meaningful policy reform would appear entirely fleeting.
General Audience Articles
Much ado has been made about setting high standards over the past year. In his first major address on education policy, given just two months after he took the oath of office, President Barack Obama put the issue on the national agenda.
What do Americans think about their schools? More important, perhaps, what would it take to change their minds? Can a president at the peak of his popularity convince people to rethink their positions on specific education reforms? Might research findings do so? And when do new facts have the potential to alter public thinking? Answers to these questions can be gleaned from surveys conducted over the past three years under the auspices of Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG).
Americans clearly have had their fill of a sluggish economy and an unpopular war. Their frustration now may also extend to public education. In this, the second annual national survey of U.S. adults conducted under the auspices of Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University, we observe a public that takes an increasingly critical view both of public schools as they exist today and, perhaps ironically, of many prominent reforms designed to improve them.
On July 14, 2006, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study that compared the performance in reading and math of 4th and 8th graders attending private and public schools. The study had been undertaken at the request of the NCES by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
Whether or not the supply of schools can meet the parental demand for choice has been central to the school choice debate for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the two sides to the debate often carry their argument to the extreme. On the one side, one finds, to coin a term, the strict inelasticians: Those who assume that supply will not change in response to an increase in demand. When model builders make such an assumption, they easily reach the conclusion that choice systems will necessarily be highly stratified.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal school-accountability law, is widely held to have accomplished one good thing: require states to publish test-score results in math and reading for each school in grades 3 through 8 and again in grade 10. The results appear to be telling parents whether their child’s school is doing a better job than the one across town, in the neighboring city, or across the state. But accountability works only if the yardstick used to measure performance is reasonably accurate. Unfortunately, the yardstick required by the federal law is not.