Three pollsters walked into a school…

Back-to-school season is officially upon us and for many families that means new school supplies and backpacks and recalling where they stashed the warmer clothes. But if you're a public opinion pollster, back-to-school means it's time to dust off your old education surveys and see if anything’s changed from last year.

With three polls released this week (AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next),  trying to draw broad conclusions can be tricky given what, at times, seem to be fairly contradictory answers from the public. Some commentators have focused on what the data seem to show regarding hot-button policy issues such as testing or vouchers.  But that’s only the tip of the survey iceberg. Consider also:

Common Core: This one is pretty easy to sort out across the rival polls: If you ask an American about the Common Core, chances are they will tell you they haven't heard of it. If they claim otherwise, there’s a good chance they are either lying or severely misinformed. 

That’s not a knock on the standards themselves or their backers. John Q. Public will learn more as CCSS morphs from a wonky D.C. political issue to an active reshaper of their local schools and state report cards.

Education Next flags the near-doubling of opposition to the standards, but the jump from 7 to 13 percent is far from a tectonic shift considering that support also climbed slightly from 63 to 65 percent.  The polls consistently showed that those who know about the CCSS generally like them.   

Charters: Like the Common Core, the public is both very supportive of charter schools and also significantly ignorant of many of their basic attributes—even though they’ve been around for more than a decade in lots of places.

Spending: Education Next showed that the public has very little concept of how much of their money is going to their local schools—the average respondent estimated $6,177 per pupil nationally when the actual number is upwards of $10,500.  While both AP-NORC and PDK/Gallup measured support for boosting per-pupil spending, that may be partially due to misinformation.  

While Education Next also talked to a lot of big spenders, that support for more dollars dropped by 10 percentage points when they were supplied with the accurate information. Education Next found a similar result when asking about teacher pay.

The biggest takeaway from these surveys is that when it comes to education reform, the more the public sees, the more it likes. That said, public-policy bandwidth is limited so we also have to ensure the information out there is actually accurate.

Michael Brickman is Fordham’s new national policy director; he previously served as Gov. Scott Walker’s education policy advisor. Follow him at @brickm.

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