National charter school advocates say public support continues to grow for the popular alternative to traditional public schools.
According to the Center for Education Reform’s report on America’s Attitudes Toward Charter Schools, four in five Americans cannot correctly identify a charter school as a public school. However, nearly the same number support the concept of “allowing communities to create new public schools” with accountability, the same academic standards, and no additional taxpayer funds.
“Once they’re given a basic understanding of what these options are, a whopping 78 percent show support for charter schools,” said Kara Kerwin, CER’s director of external affairs. “Nearly 70 percent agree with public school choice. Through the years, these numbers remain pretty high.”
Fifty-nine percent of respondents favored the use of student performance measures in determining teacher compensation.
Demanding More Choices
The CER report, released in August, highlights the results of polls conducted nationally and in seven states since 2005. Majorities of respondents consistently expressed their support for giving children the option to choose a school beyond their neighborhood assignment.
“It’s encouraging to see that a strong majority of Americans reject the idea that students should be assigned to public schools based simply on where they live,” said Dan Lips, a senior education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
“The policy of location-based school assignment that prevails in many communities consigns millions of American kids to bad schools,” Lips said.
One major advocacy group thinks the widespread support for charter schools and rejection of rigid neighborhood school assignments bodes well for other educational choice initiatives as well.
“This study shows yet again that parents across America want a true portfolio of options when it comes to educating their children,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the Alliance for School Choice, a national group based in Washington, DC. “That includes strong public schools, private schools through vouchers and tax credits, homeschooling, virtual schools, and charter schools.”
Familiarity Breeds Support
According to the national survey, parents most likely would be prompted to choose another school if their child feels unsafe in the one assigned by the government. Inability to communicate with teachers and poor building facilities were also leading causes, while inadequate after-school activities and the decisions of other parents were less likely to provoke a change in schools.
CER’s report found states with stronger charter school laws and more media coverage of the issue, such as California, yielded somewhat greater familiarity with and support for charter schools.
“For too long, defenders of the status quo have been able to build opposition among parents by creating fear about change,” Lips said. “But this poll suggests that as people better understand the benefits of school choice they are becoming more supportive.”
CER probed more deeply to discern public support for specific proposals to strengthen charter schools in two states, Georgia and Wyoming. Seventy-two percent of Georgians approved of having an alternative charter school authorizer outside the local school board. Nearly six in 10 Wyoming residents agreed.
“Wyoming has one of the worst [charter school] laws, and some legislators were trying to open it up with reforms,” Kerwin said, noting a bill to set up an independent chartering authority nearly overcame entrenched opposition there earlier this year. “That poll helped to focus efforts on where we needed to inform people about their options.”
In Georgia, a narrow majority expressed dissatisfaction with the existing public education system. In results such as these, Campanella sees an opportunity for raising general awareness of the current system’s shortcomings.
“We need to continue educating the public about the problems that plague the public schools, and that we have heard for a quarter-century or more from teachers unions and entrenched bureaucrats the same answers to educational problems,” Campanella said. “We have nothing to show for it.”
Kerwin observed the tremendous support for charter schools uncovered in the CER report strongly suggests the public would be receptive to significant change now.
“Our elected officials need to be listening to that mandate,” Kerwin said. “They should be paying attention to what their constituents are asking them to support.”
Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.
For more information …
America’s Attitudes Toward Charter Schools, Center for Education Reform, August 2008: http://www.edreform.com/index.cfm?fuseAction=document&documentID=2868§ionID=74