Data Shows Families Remain Ambivalent About Education Reform

Three new polls released this month show that families in America remain deeply ambivalent about the state of education reform in the country. According to Stephanie Simon of Politico, some reform ideas – charter schools, especially – are enthusiastically embraced by a large percentage of parents, yet school choice voucher programs are being met with skepticism.

Parents report similar push-and-pull on the issue of standardized testing. While advocates call for the number of standardized tests administered to the students to be lowered, the majority of parents are just fine with the number their kids are required to take. However, on a related matter – using those test results to assess teacher and school quality – there’s decidedly less interest.

— Americans want more funding for local schools, but they aren’t willing to blame tight budgets for all school woes; they identify a long list of problems, from poor discipline to overcrowding to low expectations for student achievement.

In short, the results give all sides in the education policy debate some points to crow about — and some to dismiss.

“Neither the defenders of the status quo nor those proposing major changes in education policy have achieved a public-opinion breakthrough in 2013,” said Paul Peterson, a Harvard professor and editor of the policy journal Education Next.

The polls also offered some interesting findings on the issue that has been covered extensively in education media outlets – the imminent adoption of Common Core Standards. Despite how much ink has been spilled on them over the last two years, parents remain largely ignorant regarding Common Core. Even though the new standards are set to roll out to more than 40 states next year, more than half of respondents with children in public schools have never heard of them. Even among those who were aware of Common Core, nearly a third claimed that they didn’t really understand them.

Despite the fact that Common Core represents the cornerstone of Obama administration’s education agenda, it appears efforts to communicate their importance to the parents have fallen woefully short.

While politicians continue to wrangle over the standards, with supporters believing that their adoption will help students improve academically and opponents call them an unacceptable federal incursion into the affairs best left to the state, parents – who really have the most to lose – remain on the sidelines.

Supporters of the Common Core say the standards will train students in critical thinking and problem solving so they’ll be better equipped for college or careers.

That message has the potential to resonate, the surveys showed, as many Americans are not confident that graduates of their public high schools are well-prepared to move on in life.

“We’ve got to do a much better job communicating the importance of Common Core,” said William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International.