There is a paralyzing number of opinions about the state of education in the United States. As the new administration meanders past the 100-day benchmark, a topic still at the tip of everyone’s tongue is the traditional school vs. charter school vs. private school voucher debate.
A recently released poll by the Associate Press-NORC broadly revealed how Americans feel about the subject, but also uncovered some of the misconceptions that are prevalent in the debate. An alarming discovery from the poll was that many Americans are unfamiliar with both private voucher and charter school programs. The Associate Press survey showed that two-thirds of the public (and three-fourths of parents with school-age children) have heard little or nothing about school vouchers, and sixty percent of respondents said they were unfamiliar with charter schools. Nearly a third of respondents said that they did not have enough information or context to be able to comment on the quality of charter schools nationally, nor within their own communities.
There was also a striking difference in the way racial groups perceived the quality of education other racial groups received. The poll reported that eighty-one percent of Whites with school-age children believe that White children receive just about the same quality of education as Black, Hispanic, and other non-White children, while fifty-eight percent of non-White parents said their children’s education is equal to White children, “but 39 percent consider it inferior.” There is a severe misalignment in the way we perceive others’ experiences.
The data unearthed in the poll reveals that there are still resounding sentiments regarding state vs. federal control of education, whether charter growth should be encouraged or halted, and if parents should or should not have the right to choose their child’s school, but an even larger issue is that the general public is not well-informed. Opinions are largely formed around personal experiences, instead of comprehensive data or legislation.
We have to gain a deeper understanding of the rhetoric being used by policy makers, advocates, and opponents. Here are some of the fundamental pieces to the School Choice debate we all need to share with the people around us, or read up on to sharpen our own understanding:
- Charter schools are public schools funded by taxpayer money, but have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. They have more autonomy with the way they hire staff, and implement curriculum. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools states, “they were created nearly 25 years ago to find ways to improve our nation’s public schools and close the achievement gap. There are now more than 6,700 public charter schools enrolling nearly 3 million students in the United States.”
- Vouchers are publicly funded scholarships given to families to supplement tuition costs for private schools, including religious ones. Vouchers are typically created and distributed by state governments. Initially, voucher programs were solely created to support low-income families, but there are now more than ten states, and Washington D.C., that are less restrictive. Advocates argue that vouchers help provide access to higher quality education, while opponents of vouchers believe they siphon resources from publics schools, and lack accountability measures.
To advocate for the needs of our students and communities, we have to to prioritize understanding the nuanced pieces of the debate. We have to be versed in the argument to engage in the fight.
The Associate Press poll was conducted in April using the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,036 adults.