Poll Questions With an Agenda

Published November 1, 2000

“In your opinion, which is the best way to measure student academic achievement–by means of test scores or by [a combination of] classroom work and homework?”

When this question was posed recently to a sample of Americans as part of the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, only 26 percent favored testing, while a majority (68 percent) went for the combination. But, as Illinois educator David Ziffer points out, close to 100 percent may have favored a reasonable combination of all three–if that option had been presented to them.

Ziffer suggests the question may have been designed to secure a low preference for student testing. that result could then be used to justify a de-emphasis of testing.

While some questions come with an agenda, others may come with an attitude–so-called “push-poll” questions that promote a particular point of view. Another question from the latest PDK/Gallup Poll provides an example of this:

“Do you think nonpublic schools that receive public funding should or should not be required to accept students from a wider range of backgrounds and academic abilities than is now generally the case?”

With some 74 percent responding “Yes” to this question, PDK concludes, “The public has been unwavering in its support both for expanding access to these schools and enforcing their accountability.” That result could be used to justify requiring more rules and regulations on private schools as a condition of receiving any kind of public funding.

But the question is loaded, presenting an inaccurate description of nonpublic schools–that they discriminate by race and academic ability–while implying that schools supported with public funds do not. In fact, as research by Jay P. Greene has shown, private schools are more racially integrated than public schools.