New Survey: Information Shifts Public Support for School Reform

Contact: Antonio Wendland
Phone: 617-495-7976
Date: January 14, 2014

Analysis of new survey data show that public perception on K-12 education is strongly influenced by the amount of information at hand. In fact, when made aware of their local district’s national ranking, the share assigning an “A” or “B” grade to the local schools falls by 11 percentage points. At the same time, opposition to teacher tenure increases by 8 percentage points, support for charter schools increases by 7 percentage points, and support for making school vouchers available to all families shoots upward by 13 percentage points.
The findings come from the latest survey of a nationally representative sample of the American public conducted under the auspices of Education Next by Professors Michael B. Henderson (University of Mississippi), William G. Howell (University of Chicago), and Paul E. Peterson(Harvard Kennedy School). The researchers told one randomly chosen group of respondents the national ranking of their local school district, while providing no such information to another randomly chosen group.
The shift in opinion occurs because people are shocked when they learn how poorly their own district ranks nationally, the authors say. “The public generally has a fairly high opinion of its local schools,” Peterson said. “But when told that their local school district ranks below what they had previously assumed, many rethink their ideas about the quality of local schools and the steps needed to improve them.”
Key survey findings include the following:
• Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans support common core standards, while only 13% oppose them. Those levels do not change significantly when respondents are told the national ranking of their local district.
• When respondents learn how their local schools rank nationally…
o the percentage of those giving the schools an “A” or a “B” on the traditional A to F grading scale drops 11 percentage points, from 49% to 38%;
o support for a proposal to make vouchers available to all families regardless of income jumps 13 percentage points, increasing from 43% to 56%, while opposition to the proposal declines from 37% to 25%;
o support for charter schools shifts upward from 51% to 58% when respondents learn the national rank of the local district, while opposition to charters declines from 26% to 23%;
o opposition to teacher tenure climbs 8 percentage points, from 47% to 55%, while support for tenure drops 8 points to 25%.
• When not informed about current teacher salary levels within their state, 55 percent of Americans favor a salary increase for teachers, and when respondents are told the national ranking of their local schools, that percentage rises slightly to 58%.
• However, when Americans are given information about current teacher salaries, support for higher salaries for teachers falls from 58% to 34%, an extraordinary decline of 24 percentage points.
More findings, analyses and methodological specifics can be found in the full study, “Information Fuels Support for School Reform: Facts about local district performance alter public thinking,” available now on The data come from the 2013 Education Next Survey, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of over 5,000 members of the adult population including oversamples of teachers, parents, African Americans and Hispanics. Detailed responses to the full set of policy questions in the survey are available at
About the Authors
Michael B. Henderson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Mississippi. William G. Howell is professor in American Politics at the University of Chicago’s Harris School and co-director of the Program on Political Institutions. Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government, directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
About Education Next
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit:


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