Public Support for Voucher Programs Grows, but Teacher Opinions Differ from the General Public

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

According to a Harvard study, Americans are increasingly in favor of school vouchers in 2011. Teachers, however, don’t feel the same way.

A recent study conducted by Education Next and Harvard University has uncovered a growing divide between teacher and public opinion when it comes to educational issues. The article, titled “The Public Weighs In on School Reform,” shows that teachers and regular citizens had differing views on how factors affect classrooms.

The biggest shift in 2011 was expanded public support of voucher programs, something that hits especially close to home in Wisconsin. Forty-seven percent of public respondents said that they would support a program that uses government funding to help students attend private schools. This was an increase of eight percent compared to 2010’s mark. The program was described as  “a proposal to give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.”

Wisconsin’s recent expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, as well as the additional educational opportunities for students in Racine, seems to fall in line with this trend. Though there has been some vocal dissent about the future of school choice in the Badger State in recent years, this Knowledge Networks survey suggests that the tide of public opinion is rising across America.

A similar topic, charter schools, did not see similar gains as voucher programs did. However, teachers’ approval of these schools rose from 39 percent to 45 percent, two percent higher than the public’s approval of charter schools.

Key Results from the 2011 PEPG Survey
Teachers General Public
Percent favoring school choice 35 47
Percent favoring charter schools 45 43
Percent favoring teacher tenure 53 20
Percent favoring merit pay based on standardized tests 18 47
Percent that think teachers’ unions have a positive effect on schools 58 29

Other questions left wide divides between regular citizens and professional teachers. Topics like merit pay and teacher tenure showed significant rifts between the two parties. Opinions on the effect of teachers’ unions saw significant changes since the 2010 survey. While the general population stayed relatively unchanged in their view of these organizations, 58 percent of teachers thought that unions have a positive effect on public schools, a jump from 51 percent in last year’s research.

In all, the survey highlights some of the areas where teachers and the general public have the least in common.. Not surprisingly, issues like union involvement and merit pay – that is, items that directly relate to teacher compensation – are at the forefront of this disparity. However, the two sides will have to work together in order to push meaningful reform forward in the future. This Harvard study suggests that those gaps may be tougher to bridge than we thought.

The PEPG Survey can be found here.