Flurry of surveys re-opens debate on education reforms

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(Baton Rouge – August 22, 2013) New surveys demonstrate that parents overwhelmingly favor public education as the best choice for children, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today. The results call into question continued efforts to privatize the state’s education system and judge teachers by standardized test results, he added.

“Seventy percent of Americans oppose vouchers for private and religious schools,” Monaghan said. “That is the highest negative ever recorded in 45 years of research by Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup organization.”

Monaghan’s comments came after release of the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools.

Reflecting public support for neighborhood schools, Monaghan said, was the PDK/Gallup finding that 71 percent of public school parents would grade the school their oldest child attends as “A” or “B.”

Another poll released about the same time, from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, shows that 76 percent of public school parents rate their child’s education as good or excellent, and that 82 percent have high opinions of their children’s teachers.

“These are careful, scientific surveys,” Monaghan said, “that need to be taken seriously as we debate the nature of education reform in Louisiana.”

The state’s reliance on standardized tests for determining everything from teacher salaries to school funding does not seem to have great public support. In the PDK/Gallup poll, for example, only 22% of Americans believe that increased testing has helped the performance of local public schools. A solid majority (58%) reject the notion that teacher evaluations should include “how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.”

In the AP-NORC survey, parents agreed that the proper use of standardized tests should be “to identify areas where students need extra help.” But according to Monaghan, the testing imposed under new state law has little diagnostic value, and is used primarily to label teachers, students and schools.

Also in the AP-NORC survey, parents were asked to rank the importance of different factors in determining teacher salaries. The top three responses were classroom observation by local school officials, the type of training or advanced degrees obtained by the teacher and years of teaching experience. In Louisiana, all three have been eclipsed by testing, and state officials downplay the importance of degrees and experience.

The PDK/Gallup poll shows support for community charter schools, as well as a belief that students can “receive a better education at public charter schools than at other public schools.”

“We’d like to see more research on that question,” Monaghan said. “Apparently people see charter schools as places where there is parental support, where discipline is enforced, where disruptive students can be removed and where learning is prized. Instead of abandoning traditional public schools, we need to inculcate those values into them.”

The PDK/Gallup survey also reveals general support for “increasing opportunities for students to earn high school credit online over the Internet.”

While that may seem to bolster Louisiana’s controversial Course Choice pilot, Monaghan urged caution.

“Louisiana had a viable public school online learning program,” Monaghan said, “but it was supplanted by Course Choice, which is little more than an online voucher scheme. Course Choice opens the state treasury to profiteers as certainly as any other voucher program.”

Not all of the survey results would lead to policies favored by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Monaghan said. But the deeper issue revealed by surveys like these is that no real policy debate was allowed when still-contested reforms were rammed through the 2012 legislative session.

“Not since the days of Huey Long have such radical policies been imposed so quickly and with such overwhelming political force,” Monaghan said. “We are seeing the consequences of that action as courts overturn policies and teacher morale plummets.

“We need to reopen the education reform debate in Louisiana" Monaghan said. "It should be informed by surveys like these, by scientific research, and by input from educators and parents. Political ideology and potential profits should be left at the door when we discuss the education of our children.”

The PDK/Gallup survey can be seen here.

The AP-NORC survey can be seen here.