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What Americans think today about School Choice

From “The Language of School Choice” by Dr. Frank Luntz, August 2010.

Quick Facts: What Americans Think Today
Americans know public education is failing.
When asked to assign a letter grade to the overall quality of public education in the U.S., 63% responded C or lower. Only 5% gave public education an A. You don’t need to convince people there’s a problem. You need to convince them choice is the solution.

People don’t know — or won’t admit — there is a problem with their own schools.
57% of Americans grade their own schools B or higher, and they are more than three times more likely to give public schools in their own neighborhoods and communities an A than public schools overall. Conversely, while almost two-thirds (63%) give US public schools a C or lower, only 34% rank their own local schools this low. School choice has to be about all students, not just the disadvantaged. You must show people that failure and inefficiency exist throughout the public school system — not just in the inner cities.

Not only do Americans believe American schools are failing overall — they believe schools are failing to deliver what matters most.
The study asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of public schools in delivering what they themselves said mattered most earlier in the poll (attributes such as “effective,” “motivating,” and “challenging”). Roughly two-thirds of Americans (66%) graded public schools C or worse in the areas that are most important to them individually. This is why it is crucial for you to position school choice as an alternative that will deliver on the things that matter most to them.

Poor education is a health threat.
37% say “lack of quality education” is the greatest day-to-day health threat facing children in America — over lack of physical exercise (19%), crime/gangs (17%), illegal drugs (16%), lack of nutrition (8%), personal injuries (2%), and long-term illness (1%). When it stops being a discussion about bricks and buildings and bureaucracy and starts focusing on the actual life of the child, you can’t lose.

Americans support school choice — in theory.
In the most simple, generic fashion, two-thirds of Americans support school choice (67%), and less than one in ten oppose it (7%). It’s when you get into specific policies that support slips.

Why don’t people get involved? They don’t know what to do.
Given a list of reasons for lack of involvement in education reform, 20% chose “I want to help, but I don’t know how.” 17% chose “The system is too large and set in its ways — I do not believe it will ever change.” Another 17% chose “The unions have too tight a hold on public education — they will never relinquish control.” 15% said “I have no real say in what happens in our schools,” while only 6% chose “What happens in our schools doesn’t directly affect me.” You have to give them actions to take and hope (and when possible, evidence) that change is possible.

People are confused about the specifics of choice.
For example, nearly half of moms (47%) admit to having no idea how charter schools are funded, while nearly a quarter of the general population (23%) think they know, but are wrong. You must educate people about the nuts and bolts of choice. Don’t assume they know how a voucher, tax credit, or charter school really works.

Categories: School Choice
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