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House Speaker Brian Bosma was greeted by an overflow crowd of angry educators when he conducted a town meeting at IPFW in January 2011. A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll shows Americans overall are divided over vouchers and charter schools.

Lawmakers’ education

If Indiana lawmakers had sought public opinion about teacher evaluations, charter schools and taxpayer vouchers for religious schools, the sweeping changes they’ve approved in recent years might have looked a bit different. A major annual poll on public education shows the public is far from settled in its embrace of the so-called education reforms enthusiastically enacted here.

Before the next session, the Republican lawmakers who are quietly expressing some reservations about the pace of Indiana’s school changes might want to spend some time looking at the nationwide poll.

Bloomington-based Phi Delta Kappa’s 44th annual survey, conducted with the Gallup Poll, finds:

•Of the 52 percent of respondents who support tying teacher evaluations to students’ performance on standardized tests, almost half said the scores should count for less than two-thirds of the teacher’s evaluation. “Clearly, American opinion on this doesn’t match the massive effort under way in many states and school districts to do so,” wrote the survey’s authors.

•Charter school support, which had been steadily growing for almost 10 years, may well have peaked: 66 percent of respondents favor the idea of charter schools, compared with 70 percent last year. “In the past, support for charter schools has been apolitical, but this year we noted that Republicans were more supportive (80 percent) than Democrats (54 percent),” according to the survey.

•Asked whether they favor or oppose “allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense,” 55 percent said they oppose, about the same as the 52 percent opposed in the 2002 poll.

The nationwide survey once again showed that Americans have a more favorable view of their neighborhood schools than they do of public schools nationwide and that public school parents have a much higher opinion of their own child’s school than respondents overall. Seventy-seven percent of parents gave their own school a grade of A or B, compared with 48 percent of all respondents.

The percentage of respondents who would give public schools nationally an A or B was just 19 percent, down from 24 percent in 2002. That’s a good indication that the “public schools are failing” message pushed by reformers – many of them with interests in education privatization – is succeeding (although only 7 percent of respondents give U.S. schools a failing grade).

Lawmakers should weigh those numbers before approving any more school-reform measures, and, more important, they should ask Indiana residents what they think of their own schools, not their perception of public schools overall.

They’re likely to hear what survey respondents identified as the biggest problem facing public schools in their communities – not drugs, gang violence or lack of discipline, but lack of financial support.