Poll: Americans Open to Drastic Forms of Education Reform

A solid plurality of Americans would be amenable to their local school districts seriously shaking up the way they operate, according to a new poll from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which portrayed the poll's results as good news for education reform advocates.
by | August 2, 2012

A solid plurality of Americans would be amenable to their local school districts seriously shaking up the way they operate, according to a new poll from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which portrayed the poll's results as good news for education reform advocates.

Nearly half of Americans, 48 percent, said they would want their school district "to cut costs by dramatically changing how (they) do business" if the district was facing a substantial budget deficit, according to Fordham. Only 26 percent said they would want to wait for things to get better, while 11 percent they would want to raise taxes.

Various well-known cost-saving measures saw significant support in the Fordham poll: cutting the number of school administrators (69 percent); closing and consolidating schools with declining enrollment (63 percent) and merging the administrative offices of smaller school districts (63 percent).

Reversing teacher tenure and "last in, first out" layoff policies has been a longstanding goal of education reformers, and the Fordham poll found the public was agreeable to those ideas: 74 percent said teacher layoffs -- if necessary -- should be based on performance, rather than seniority. More than half said they would support moving teachers away from a classic pension plan and into something similar to an individual 401(K).

Americans were tepid on one oft-raised reform opportunity: digital learning. Slightly more of those polled (46 percent) advised against including blended learning, which mixes traditional instruction with virtual classes, than supported it (42 percent). Asked about virtual schools as a whole: 32 percent said they were a bad idea, 21 percent said they were a good idea, and 40 percent said they were a good idea only for students that struggle in traditional settings.

"We found Americans willing, for the most part, to grapple with such challenges and oftentimes to support difficult reductions," the poll's authors wrote. "The public is open to different ways of doing things, willing to change business as usual in order to cut costs and save money."

The Fordham Institute is well-known for its support of various education reform tactics. The institute's poll consisted of 1,009 adults, ages 18 and older, randomly selected and nationally representive. The full report is below.

 

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