Monday, August 24, 2015

PDK Factoid Parade

The Phi Delta Kappa poll of US attitudes about education is out, and education writers are on that puppy like a lake full of carp on a loaf of bread. I'm scanning the report. It's a report that establishes PDK's bona fides right off the bat because-- well, when a pool is commissioned by somebody to prove something, it generally arrives cloaked in a cloud of obtuseness that's meant to discourage any sort of examination. "Just take our word for it," the sponsors say. "The poll shows that school choice cures cancer and reverse male pattern baldness." But PDK's published poll results are perfectly accessible to ordinary civilians. Almost like they're not trying to hide anything.

So what did I learn?

How You Ask Matters

Okay, here's a thing I totally did not know, found in the introduction and straight from Gallup methodologist Stephanie Kafka:

“When a respondent sees response categories visually, they’re much more likely to gravitate toward the middle,” Kafka said. “When they hear the same items, they’re more likely to latch on to the ends.”

So, that's interesting. Also, "Stephanie Kafka" would be a great name for a gumshoe detective, so Kafka might want to consider a career change.

It's the Money, Stupid

Americans of all types, shapes and sizes agree that the biggest problem facing their local schools. This is not a new result, but I find it interesting because politicians and policy-makers generally consider this the last item on their list of solutions to try working.

Too Much Testing, And Test Fans Should Be Worried

Speaking of seeming contradictions, the public overwhelmingly agrees that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in their local schools (64% overall). Among the subgroups, Democrats lead the pack at 71% saying "too much" which creates an interesting conundrum for the reformster alleged Democrats like Andy Cuomo, Arne Duncan, and the fine folks at CAP (who swear they're left-leaning Dems even though the evidence is so thin that not even PI Stephanie Kafka could find it).

At the same time, support for opt-out is not as deep. 41% says it's okay, 44% say it's not, and 16% don't know. But if support is not deep for opting out, it's certainly not deep enough for taking the test. And the really bad news for test manufacturers and reformsters is that among school parents, the numbers are 47% say opt-out is okay and only 40% say no. If 47% of parents were actually to opt their students out of the Big Standardized Test, that would be game over for the test-and-punish policies.

Asked if they would actually opt their child out, 31% of parents said yes. That is enough to bring the whole testing juggernaut to a halt. But here's a weird one-- the percentage of actual opt-outers is higher among GOP responders (34%) than among Dems (26%). Lowest group-- black parents, with 21%.

No Love for Tests Themselves

Pretty much nobody thinks that the BS Tests give us a good picture of how well a school is doing. Again, while only 14% thought BS Tests were a good measure, 28% of black responders thought so.

It didn't matter how the pollsters went looking for test love. Best way to tell student progress? Best way to improve a school? BS Tests came in dead last every time. And only a sliver of folks thought that having test that could let you compare your own child to children in other states (which is a good thing, because that kind of intra-state comparison is something that we totally can't do).

Teacher Evaluation Surprise

Reformsters repeatedly tell us that there is strong support for the idea of evaluating teachers based on what their students learn, and I believe that-- stated that way-- it's an idea that does have broad support. But PDK asked the real question-- should teacher evaluation be linked to student test scores.

More folks opposed that than favored it. I wouldn't call it a a landslide (55-43), but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Thanks for Playing, Common Core

Yes, increasingly folks agree that it's time to hand Common Core a case of Rice-A-Roni and send it on its way. Continuing the trend from the past couple of years, people know more about CCSS and like the standards less. At the same time, very few folks think their school's standards are too high.

The short form here is that despite the heavy marketing of reformsters, folks still don't see Common Core Standards as high standards so much as they see the Core as bad standards.

Also, only about 12% first heard about Common Core through social media. So much for the transformative power of blogging.

The Disconnect About Charters

Well, we have some work to do. Folks overwhelmingly support "the idea of charter schools," with a 10% rise of support among parents. They also support the idea of being able to go to any public school, even outside the neighborhood. (A large percentage, however, don't believe they know enough to make the choice.)

I wish that PDK had asked the question, "Would you support the idea of school choice if it meant that it would take money away from your local----" Oh, hell. I don't know how you boil that complicated question down into a polling item.

But we have the next best thing, because they did ask if it would be okay for students to attend private schools at public expense, and opposition to THAT was overwhelming.

What that tells me is that the public doesn't understand how choice and charters work, and that the effort to brand charters as "public" schools was both smart and effective. Because our current charter choice system is nothing but students attending private schools at public expense, but with enough smoke and mirrors that the public doesn't get it. Remember the number one problem for the local school? That would be having enough money. And every student who leaves a public school takes a chunk of money off to a charter to fatten someone's bank account and leave the public school poorer. Well, you know the deal. but the public by and large clearly does not.

This would be the point on which we're losing the argument against privatization.

Local Is Best

As always, everybody thinks their local school is better than the nation's schools. As always, my explanation is that people have direct experience of their local school, but most of what they know about the nation's schools is the media beat-down that public education constantly takes.

WTF, Democrats??!

Towards the back we get to other fun opiniony questions, like what would make the most difference (money) or what grade Obama gets for education (B's or C's depending on the party). Then we get to who should be running schools.

People mostly think state or local government should be running schools. But one of the specific questions asked which level should be "deciding which textbooks and teaching methods should be used."

33% of Democrats said the federal government. 33%!!! Someone in DC, some bureaucrat being heavily lobbied by Pearson et al, should decide which textbook I should use, or how I should teach??!! I am going to interpret this data as "33% of Democrats have lost their damn minds." I do not know what possessed them, or where their missing brain parts went, but I will gladly hire PI Stephanie Kafka to work on the case.


  1. A more hopeful interpretation of that last finding is that 33% of Democrats are concerned about things they've read about states like Texas adopting textbooks that lie about the relationship between Christianity and the Constitution, or the defense of slavery and the Confederacy, and they think federal oversight of textbooks will fix things like that. I don't think it's a fix, but I get the concern. I've even seen people comment that they support the Common Core because of things like that, or keeping creationism out of biology classes, not realizing of course that neither science nor history are part of the Common Core standards.

    1. That concern also overlooks the possibility that the same people who twisted history in Texas could get control at the federal level. The assumption that greater wisdom will always be found in DC is just hugely dangerous (and shows a great deal of historical amnesia).