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Friedman Survey Finds Big Shift on Standardized Testing, Not to Mention….

For someone who has what some would consider an unhealthy fascination with education surveys, it has been awhile since I really delved into one of them. Back then, the big concern was about PDK/Gallup’s wording of a key question about school choice — adding the ominous phrase “at public expense.”

This latest survey of a nationally representative sample of voters is sponsored by my friends at the Friedman Foundation. Interestingly, this renowned pro-school choice group led its release of the results with the headline: “Parents say too much focus on standardized tests.” According to their poll, 44 percent of parents think standardized tests take up too much time, 22 percent say too little, and 30 percent say it’s about right.

Note that we’re talking about parents of school-aged children — a smaller subset of voters. Interestingly, though, the results for non-parents only skew a little bit toward the “too little” and “about right” categories. More significantly is the comparison to last year’s findings from a different poll, in which 61 percent of parents said testing was “about right,” compared to 11 percent saying “too little.”

That sure looks like real evidence of a sizable shift in public opinion. We’re talking about a huge drop-off in the numbers of those content with the standardized testing situation, with about two-thirds of them moving into the “we’re overtested” category. Of course, such a change is possible, given all the connection between testing and the highly publicized (and highly contentious) Common Core issue.

Speaking of which, Friedman found that just asking what folks think about Common Core, it comes out slightly against (34-39). But the results skew to 50-41 in favor if you provide the following description first:

The objective of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is to establish similar academic standards and comparable tests across all states for students in grades K-12. The standards were initially developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. States and districts have adopted the common standards and tests in association with U.S. Department of Education incentives.

A clinical, evenhanded sort of description, in my estimation. It all just goes to show the complexity surrounding this issue. Friedman then went on to compare the views of Common Core Champions (153 strong supporters) and Dissidents (268 strong opponents) on other issues. Dissidents tend much more to think K-12 education is “on the wrong track” that the federal government has had a negative influence, while being significantly less likely to support scholarship tax credits. Hmmm….

You wondered when I was going to touch on school choice, didn’t you? You even may have been wondering why Friedman didn’t lead with the school choice numbers. Some of you skeptics probably thought they were trying to hide bad news. (Come on, admit it.) Well, skeptics, you would just so happen to be wrong:

  • Charter Schools: without a definition, 46% support, 22% oppose; with a definition, 61% support, 26% oppose
  • School Vouchers: without a definition, 43% support, 21% oppose; with a definition, 63% support, 33% oppose — support for universal vouchers for kids regardless of income tested much stronger than means-tested programs
  • Tax-Credit Scholarships: consistent with the recent history of surveying this issue, 64% support, 25% oppose — support is strongest among younger voters, Hispanics, and urban dwellers
  • Education Savings Accounts: 56% support, 34% oppose; again, the strongest support comes from younger voters, Hispanics, and urbanites

Why not lead with the great news about school choice? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s not because things look bad or worse for choice. Hey, maybe the good people at Friedman are just trying to keep us on our toes with the sort of surprise that can keep us (or at least me) smiling all afternoon.