PDK Poll Is in the Tank for Public Schools

PDK Poll Is in the Tank for Public Schools
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The 49th annual Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) poll purporting to reflect “the public’s attitudes toward the public schools” was released last week, and its panjandrums are bragging that their nationwide telephone sampling of 1,558 adults (an average of 30 people per state) is “the most trusted source of public opinion about K-12 education.”

In one sense only, that immodest boast may be correct. It certainly is the wellspring of manipulated data most trusted by the public-education establishment to tout its fads and taint its competitors.

The 2017 edition crows about this being the 20th time that its respondents have rejected the use of vouchers enabling families to choose private schools for their children. Of course, PDK frames the issue as one of “using public money to support private schools,” despite the fact that courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court have concluded that vouchers/scholarships aid individuals, not institutions, and that it’s those individuals who then decide what kind of school they wish to attend.

Left unexplained by PDK is why the vast majority of other national polls—including, most recently, an EdNext Poll overseen by Stanford and Harvard scholars—show support for private choice continuing to grow. EdNext found opposition to universal vouchers shrinking from 44 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2017. Among the general public, the idea of offering private choice vouchers to all children now commands plurality support by an 8-percentage-point margin. Parents were found to approve of school choice by a margin of 20 percentage points, 52 percent to 32 percent.

This year, by contrast, the PDK Poll’s basic finding was that the public opposes vouchers 52 percent to 39 percent. And by attaching wordy commentaries to questions, the pollsters were able to gin up numbers to suit their agenda.

One such commentary explained that if respondents stuck with public schools they would get a free ride, while their voucher might cover only half the tuition at a private school. That jacked up voucher opposition to 61 percent.

Another zinger asked folks to choose whether vouchers would help public schools by forcing them to compete or hurt them by reducing funding. That query, of course, took no account of private schools having reduced expenses with fewer students on their rolls. This ploy inflated the anti-voucher response all the way up to 67 percent.

Another oddity is PDK polled for vouchers only, completely ignoring both private choice scholarships created by tax credits for corporate and/or individual donors and education savings account programs, which have the potential to provide universal choice.

For its part, EdNext found a solid majority of Americans support tax-credit scholarships, making it the most popular method of expanding private school choice. (Even Illinois, which has long been held captive by powerful teachers unions, has just adopted a substantial school choice program fueled by tax credits.) No doubt the tax-credit scholarship is also is the least vulnerable to a court challenge, given that no funds are circulated through public treasuries. 

The growing clout of this form of choice no doubt helps explain why the PDK pollsters chose to ignore it, focusing solely on the vouchers demonized by the left.

Among the other items of interest, PDK found Americans are currently a lot more interested in public schools inculcating “interpersonal skills” in students and immersing them in career preparation that leads to certification for specific jobs, as opposed to subjecting them to standardized testing.

Again, answers might have been somewhat different if pollsters asked if parents would cotton to state workforce planners mapping and tracking their kids’ vocational futures.

No doubt standardized testing is at a low in popularity now, but the PDK pollsters failed to ask a single question about the primary generator of redundant and intrusive testing the past seven years: Common Core State Standards. PDK, the self-proclaimed ultimate trustworthy source, whiffed on an issue that continues to be of great importance to many Americans: determining how to decontaminate schools of the Common Core virus once and for all.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute.

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