Poll: Parents don’t support many education policy changes

Most parents with children in public schools do not support recent changes in education policy, from closing low-performing schools to shifting public dollars to charter schools to private school vouchers, according to a new poll to be released Monday by the American Federation of Teachers.

The poll, conducted by Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates, surveyed 1,000 parents this month and found that most would rather see their neighborhood schools strengthened and given more resources than have options to enroll their children elsewhere.

AFT President Randi Weingarten is expected to highlight the poll’s findings during a speech Monday at the union’s annual meeting in Washington. The AFT is the nation’s second-largest teachers union and represents school employees in most of the major urban school districts.

In the speech, Weingarten will call for a reinvestment in public schools and say that education reform hasn’t worked and isn’t what parents want. “Decades of top-down edicts, mass school closures, privatization and test fixation with sanctions, instead of support, haven’t moved the needle — not in the right direction, at least,” Weingarten says in remarks from the speech provided to The Washington Post. “You’ve heard their refrain: competition, closings, choice. Underlying that is a belief that disruption is good and stability is bad.”

The union is fighting plans by school systems to shutter schools in struggling Chicago, Philadelphia and D.C. neighborhoods.

Union officials say the poll results counter the argument made by those pushing policy changes that parents want more choice in deciding where to send their children and a market-based approach to education.

Sixty-one percent of parents polled said they were opposed to closing low-performing schools and reassigning students to a different school, while roughly one-third approved of the policy. The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

When it comes to traditional public schools, more than three out of every four parents surveyed said they were opposed to reducing compensation for teachers or cutting resources for the classroom while increasing spending on charter schools.

More than half the parents polled, or 58 percent, said they did not approve of officials lengthening the school day, but more than one-third thought it was a good idea. While 56 percent are opposed to giving tax dollars to families to pay for private school tuition, 41 percent approved.

On the issue of standardized tests, a majority of parents surveyed said that too much learning in the classroom has been sacrificed in order to accommodate state tests during the school year. A majority of parents reported that their children have been anxious about those tests. Pockets of resistance to standardized testing have been popping up across the country, with students in Seattle, Pittsburgh and elsewhere opting out of tests this spring in protest.

Among respondents, 38 percent identified as Democrats, 33 percent considered themselves independents and 29 percent were Republicans.

Roughly two out of every three parents polled said public schools were more important than religious institutions, businesses and the military in terms of providing important skills for their children.

Most parents felt strongly that layoffs and a high turnover of teachers; closing schools in major cities; reducing art and music instruction to focus on math and reading; increasing class sizes; and cutting school budgets have had a negative effect on public schools.

Nearly two-thirds of parents were satisfied with their children’s public schools, while 31 percent were not. Seven in 10 parents said they were satisfied with the quality of their children’s teachers.

Most — 92 percent — had students in traditional public schools, while 8 percent had children enrolled in charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated and independent from many of the regulations of the school system. Most charter schools are not unionized.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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