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Pollsters Celinda Lake and Christine Matthews Respond to EduFlak Post

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July 26, 2010 08:53 pm

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Pollsters Celinda Lake - PollReleaseEventA few weeks ago, the Alliance released a bipartisan national public opinion poll on the need for immediate education reform. Among other things, the poll found that improving the quality of public high schools through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a voting issue for over eight in ten voters. Several outlets picked up on the results including the Medill News Service,  the Florida Times-Union,  and EduFlak.

EduFlak had some assertions and questions that the pollsters, Celinda Lake and Christine Matthews, wanted to respond to:

1.   The poll finds that eight in ten voters want to see NCLB changed in the reauthorization of ESEA, while 11 percent say NCLB should be left as it is. Eduflack questions this finding, asking: “Are we to believe that virtually all likely voters recognize that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year; and that 80% understand the components of the current NCLB bill well enough to know that the current law needs to be altered?”

The findings of the poll should not be construed in this way at all. The poll does not indicate that voters know that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year. As AEE and the pollsters asserted at the press conference introducing the poll, if we had to guess, we would agree with Eduflack and say that most voters don’t know this. However, we certainly can say from this survey that when ESEA is introduced to voters in the survey, with concise and accurate information, that ESEA reauthorization is seen as important to voters.  And when it comes to NCLB, nearly 90 percent of voters in the survey have an opinion on the NCLB policy: 47% have a favorable opinion, 44% an unfavorable opinion, and 10% feel they don’t know enough to say either way. Additionally, eight in ten (79%) feel they have enough information to rate the job NCLB has done in their community, with 52% giving NCLB a negative rating and 27% a positive rating, and 21% don’t have enough information to say either way.  We agree with Eduflack, in that most voters do not fully understand all of the intricate components of the current NCLB bill, we see in this in the focus groups we conduct throughout the country. Yet, this research shows that they do have a base of knowledge about NCLB, which combined with their own experiences and views that public high schools are in urgent need of improvement, lead us to be confident that voters can weigh-in on whether NCLB should be changed or just reauthorized as it is.

The survey questionnaire (which was made public with the findings, and can be found at https://all4ed.org/files/071410PollReleasePublicQuestionnaire.pdf) shows that this is the context in which voters were asked about ESEA.  After a series of questions on public high schools generally and a series of questions on voters’ views on NCLB, ESEA reauthorization was introduced in the survey as: “The current federal law that guides how all public schools, including high schools, are run is up for renewal in Congress. This federal law which is known as No Child Left Behind is formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”  Then, voters were asked, “When Congress considers renewing this law do you think it should entirely replace No Child Left Behind and take a different and new approach to fix schools; keep the main elements of No Child Left Behind and only make modest changes to the law to fix schools; or should Congress leave the law as it is and make no changes?”   And the results are that 79% of likely voters say they want to see changes made to NCLB when Congress renews ESEA and 11% say Congress should leave the law as is and make no changes.

So, to answer Eduflack’s question on whether the survey findings “assume an education policy knowledge among likely voters that is far out of whack with reality” — they do not.  We can say with confidence that the survey met voters where they were in terms of knowledge, gave them a small, neutral, and unbiased amount of information about ESEA, and then asked voters to evaluate and make a choice based on that information as well as all the other knowledge and experiences they already have about public education and NCLB.

2.   Lastly, Educflack also questioned whether “education could really takeover the economy as a key voting issue in November.”  AEE and the research team of Lake and Bellwether have not made that assertion, and we would not make it as education does not rank before the economy right now in any polls we have seen. The new AEE poll does allow us to say, however, that education is an important issue and when voters do focus on the issue it is seen as important factor in how they will evaluate Congressional incumbents this fall. The AEE poll also shows that voters link the quality of public high schools and the state and progress of the national economy and our ability to compete in the global economy as well.  The AEE poll shows two-thirds of voters believe that a high drop out rate has a lot of impact on the nation’s economy (69 percent), and similarly on America’s ability to compete in the global economy (65 percent).

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