Education Next’s annual national survey of public opinion on education policy reveals that Americans’ perception of local school quality has declined since 2019, backing for school choice measures has shifted sharply upward, and support for increasing teacher salaries has reached its highest level in the survey’s 16-year history, according to a news release from the scholarly journal focusing on K-12 education.
This year’s poll includes a special survey of parents of students in public, private and charter schools. A small shift in enrollment away from traditional public schools to other forms of schooling appears to have occurred since 2019. But parents’ anxieties about their children’s learning losses, social isolation and emotional distress have subsided.
The survey also reveals growing partisanship among the public at large. “Despite the education-policy community’s long history of trying to keep political pressures at arm’s length, public opinion on education issues seems to be increasingly drawn into the powerful current of partisanship in contemporary American politics,” authors David M. Houston (George Mason University), Paul E. Peterson (Harvard University) and Martin R. West (Harvard University) write.
Key findings include:
- Perceptions of public schools: Americans’ perception of the quality of local schools has dropped. Today, just 52% of Americans give their local public schools an A or B grade, as compared to 60% in 2019. Historically, the proportions of Democrats and Republicans who award their local public schools a grade of an A or a B have differed little or not at all. However, in 2022, only 47% of Republicans, as compared to 56% of Democrats, award their local schools one of these two grades.
- Teacher salaries: Support for increased teacher salaries has soared from 61% in 2017 and 67% in 2021 to 72% in 2022, reaching its highest level since Education Next’s first survey was conducted in 2007. Positive evaluations of teachers unions have also increased — to 43% in 2022 from 37% in 2017. Democrats tend to be more supportive of higher salaries for teachers and typically view teachers unions more favorably than their Republican counterparts do. The difference in positive evaluations of teachers unions between Democrats and Republicans is nearly 40 percentage points.
- Student enrollment: According to parents, district-operated schools lost 4% of student enrollments to other types of schooling between 2020 and 2022. Percentages of children homeschooled or attending charter schools and private schools each appear to have increased slightly.
- School choice: Backing for two school choice measures has reached new highs. Support for education savings accounts — government-provided funds that can be used on educational expenses for families who choose not to send their child to a public school — has jumped 10 percentage-points since 2017. The percentage favoring tax-credit scholarships for low-income students has risen to an all-time high of 61% in 2022, from 55% in 2017 and 56% in 2021. Fifty-four percent of Americans support allowing parents to homeschool their children, compared to just 45% in 2017. Support for charter schools, universal vouchers and vouchers for low-income families also trended upward between 2021 and 2022.
- Teaching about race. Thirty-nine percent of Americans think their local public schools are placing about the right amount of emphasis on slavery, racism and other challenges faced by people of color in the United States. However, 35% of Americans think their local public schools place too little emphasis on these issues, while 27% think there is currently too much emphasis on these issues. Parents of nearly two thirds of all students are satisfied with their school’s approach to teaching about slavery, race and racism. The parents of half of Black students think the topic needs more attention, a view shared by parents of only a quarter of Hispanic students and 17% of white students. Democratic and Republican parents also diverge in their beliefs on this issue, with 37% of the former reporting that race is emphasized too little in school, while 19% of the latter say it is given too much attention. Parents with children in private schools are more likely than others to believe their child’s school has struck the right balance.
- Vaccinations and mask mandates. Parents of nearly 80% of students say their children were required to wear masks at some point during the 2021–2022 school year. By the end of the year, however, only 11% were under mask mandates. As of May 2022, 44% of students still had not received a COVID vaccination, according to their parents. The percentage of students who remained unvaccinated as of May 2022 ranged from a high of 58% for children in kindergarten through 2nd grade, to 48% for those in 3rd through 5th grade, to 40% for those in middle school, down to 31% for high school students. Children of Democratic parents in states that Joe Biden won in the 2020 election are more than twice as likely to be vaccinated than children of Republicans in states won by Donald Trump. Similarly, children in blue states were more likely than those in red states to be told they must wear a mask during the 2021–2022 school year.
- Universal pre-K. Support for both government-funded universal pre-kindergarten and government-funded pre-kindergarten for low-income families has risen from a slight majority in 2014 to over 70% in 2022.
- Social and emotional learning. The public’s opinion on the relative emphasis schools should place on academic performance compared to social-emotional learning has shifted sharply back to pre-pandemic levels, after a nearly even split in 2021. Americans once again say schools should place about two thirds of their focus on academic learning.
Methodology. The total sample for the survey (3,641 respondents) consists of two separate subsamples. The first is a nationally representative, stratified general population sample of adults in the United States (1,784 respondents). The second consists of American parents, stepparents, or foster parents of at least one child living in the respondent’s household who is in a grade from kindergarten through 12th (1,857 respondents). The parent sample includes oversamples of parents with at least one child in a charter school (305 respondents), parents with at least one child in a private school (310 respondents), Black parents (283 respondents), and Hispanic parents (429 respondents). The survey was conducted in May 2022.
Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School.