Survey is ammunition, not illumination

University of Illinois education professor Christopher Lubienski said he winced when he saw a recent Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey that purported to find suspiciously strong support among Indiana voters for private school vouchers.

Christopher Lubienski

Christopher Lubienski

Lubienski, who studies both school choice and research methodology, suspected the survey results would be reported uncritically — and sure enough, they were.

“The Friedman Foundation is an advocacy organization,” he said in a phone interview this week. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but they have a position. I think it’s not appropriate to represent them as some kind of objective research organization. They’re not; they’re pushing an agenda.

“Researchers are looking for illumination,” he said. “And the Friedman Foundation is looking for ammunition.”

The Friedman Foundation survey found that an extraordinary seven in 10 Hoosier registered voters favor vouchers, in which the government pays private and religious school tuition for qualified students. Other surveys find voucher support to be half that strong. The foundation also found strong support for charter schools and for education savings accounts, a new and convoluted approach to providing public funding for private school tuition.

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CEEP survey on K-12 education: mixed messages for policymakers

The 2010 Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana finds support for some of the education changes being pushed by Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, but not for others.

The telephone survey of 612 Indiana residents was conducted for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University in November and December 2010. The survey report is available online, and so are a news release and a PowerPoint presentation given to the State Board of Education.

On the plus side for Daniels and Bennett, the findings suggest a majority of Hoosiers would support changes in the way teachers are evaluated and compensated. On the other hand, a majority believe that schools are underfunded, while the governor and superintendent insist more money isn’t the answer.

As a general trend, the survey found Indiana residents were more critical of schools than in previous years. They were a more likely to give low grades to the state’s schools and a little more likely to think education is getting worse than that it’s getting better.

Of course, most people think schools in their community are better than average – 59 percent gave local schools an A or a B; only 38 percent gave state schools an A or a B. And among parents of school-aged children, 65 percent gave local schools an A or a B.

The folks at CEEP tried to address issues likely to be considered by the state legislature, but the survey doesn’t measure support for two high-profile Daniels-Bennett proposals: promoting more charter schools and instituting private-school vouchers.

Study co-author Terry Spradlin explained that the charter-school proposals – expanding sponsorship of charter schools, giving them access to unused school property, etc. – are probably too technical to address in a survey. Continue reading