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Do you know about the “Trump Effect” on public education?

Annual survey demonstrates partisan views on key education trends.

The 2017 Education Next annual survey of American public opinion on education shows public support for charter schools has dropped, even as opposition to school vouchers and tax credits for private-school scholarships has declined.

In a dramatic change of opinion over the past year, support for charter schools has declined by 12 percentage points, from 51 percent last year to just 39 percent this year (36 percent opposed). Support has fallen by 13 percentage points among Republicans and by 11 percentage points among Democrats, to 47 percent and 34 percent support respectively, leaving the partisan gap on the issue largely unchanged.

Opposition to private school choice declines despite partisan differences. Opposition to universal vouchers, which give all families a wider choice, has declined from 44 percent to 37 percent, while support for vouchers targeted to low-income parents has increased by six percentage points (43 percent in 2017 up from 37 percent in 2016).

(Next page: The “Trump Effect” on opinions about public education issues)

An analysis of individuals by political party reveals that support for universal vouchers has increased by 13 percentage points among Republicans (to 54 percent) but fallen by 9 percentage points (to 40 percent) among Democrats, whereas in 2016, Democrats were more supportive than Republicans of universal vouchers by an 8-percentage point margin. Opposition to tax-credit funded scholarships has declined from 29 percent to 24 percent.

The report also reveals that opposition to the Common Core State Standards seems to have finally leveled off. When the “Common Core” name is not mentioned, support for the same standards across states rises among both Democrats and Republicans.

While there remains a partisan divide in support for Common Core (32 percent in favor among Republicans and 49% among Democrats), support rises to 64 percent and 61 percent, respectively, when the name is not mentioned, eliminating the partisan gap.

Meanwhile, support for the federal role in education policy has waned. This year’s poll also finds that President Trump’s policy preferences widen the partisan divide on issues such as charter schools, Common Core, tax credits, and merit pay for teachers.

On those four issues, the poll examines whether President Trump’s endorsement of a policy has a polarizing effect on public opinion by telling half of the sample the president’s position while not supplying this information to the other. EdNext conducted similar experiments in 2009 and 2010 during President Obama’s first two years in office. In 2009, Obama enjoyed a period of bipartisan support during which he moved public opinion toward his position, though the effect waned in 2010. Trump has not enjoyed such a “honeymoon” period.

When informed of Trump’s position, Republicans move toward it on three of the four issues, including a 15 percentage-point increase in support for charter schools. However, Trump fails to persuade Democrats, who move away from the president’s position on two of the four issues, including a 14 percentage-point decrease in support for merit pay. These offsetting effects leave overall public opinion on these issues largely unchanged.

Information about cost and earnings has little impact on college-going preferences–except among Hispanics. The latest poll shows that two-thirds of the public want their child to pursue a 4-year degree, while only 22 percent prefer a 2-year degree. Among white respondents with a 4-year college degree, 88 percent want their child to pursue a 4-year degree, compared to 57 percent of white respondents without a 4-year college degree.

Most respondents, when they are informed as to the average costs and earnings associated with 2-year versus 4-year degrees, do not change their preferences. For Hispanics, however, providing both types of information shifts their preference for a 4-year degree to 72 percent, from 61 percent when no information is provided. This shift reverses the white-Hispanic gap in preferences for a 4-year degree. These findings emerge from an experiment where a randomly chosen group within the sample receives financial information while another group does not.

The nationally representative survey also includes representative samples of teachers, Hispanics, blacks, Republicans, and Democrats. New this year is a breakdown of white respondents by education. This year’s results include two interactive graphics providing both 2017 findings and 11-year trends.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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