Opinion Polls Show Support for School Choice

Published January 1, 1997

A recent nationwide survey has found widespread public support for educational choice, confirming the findings of state-specific polls but contradicting two heavily publicized surveys conducted in early 1996.

International Communications Research (ICR), an independent polling firm headquartered in Media, Pennsylvania, conducted the August 1996 survey on behalf of the Center for Education Reform. The 1,017 respondents to the telephone survey represent a scientific sampling of a cross-section of Americans. The survey is 95 percent accurate (+- 3 percent).

Eighty-six percent of those responding to the ICR survey favored allowing parents to send their children to the government, private, or parochial school of their choice. Seventy-two percent agreed that legislators should make it easier for parents to remove their children from failing schools and enroll them in another government, private, or parochial school.

Support was similarly strong for government-funded scholarships that would allow poor children to attend any school. Overall, 73 percent of respondents approved of tax-funded educational choice. Fully 90 percent of African-American respondents favored such choice, while 71 percent of white respondents did. Seventy-seven percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, and 67 percent of Republicans, approved.

The ICR survey closely tracked results from state-specific opinion polls conducted in Arizona, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. But ICR’s findings sharply contradicted the results of two polls conducted in early 1996.

In May, the Gallup organization conducted a poll on behalf of Phi Delta Kappa, a professional educators association. That survey was followed by one conducted by pollster Linda DiVall for the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union. Both polls seemed to show wide support for the present system of government education and opposition to alternatives that would make it easier for parents to choose the schools their children attend. The Phi Delta Kappa and NEA polls reported, for example, that only 36 percent of respondents supported school choice, and that fully 69 percent of Republican respondents opposed choice.

According to Jeanne Allen, executive director of the Center for Education Reform, both the Phi Delta Kappa and the NEA polls were flawed, “probably by design.” In a September Wall Street Journal article, she pointed out that both her poll and a Public Agenda survey done earlier this year revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of public education. “With that reality in mind,” she said, “It’s no wonder the unions and their special-interest allies have to skew their polls.”

Quentin Quade, executive director of The Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education, said “The popularity of parental freedom in education via school choice has been definitely and repeatedly established by poll after poll, done with national samples and, even more important, many state-based samples as well.”