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Poll: Many Americans Don't Understand Charter Schools But Favor Them Anyway

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A major long-running survey of American attitudes toward public education shows there's strong support for charter schools, even though many people don't really understand how charters work.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents said they favored charter schools in the 46th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Towards the Public Schools. The opposite was true for school vouchers, which two-thirds of respondents said they opposed.PDK-Gallup chart with color.JPG

But when participants were quizzed in more detail about their knowledge of charter schools, often the majority of them got basic facts wrong:

"Most Americans misunderstand charter schools, believing that they can charge tuition and admit students based on ability, and nearly half believe they can also teach religion," wrote William J. Bushaw of PDK International and Valerie J. Calderon of Gallup in a report on the poll's findings.

Forty-eight percent of respondents said charters were not public schools and that they could teach religion, while 57 percent believe charters could charge tuition and 68 percent think they can select their students based on ability.

Suddenly, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently launched charter school myth-busting campaign makes a bit more sense.

Now, how favorably a respondent rated charter schools depended on how pollsters asked the question. People were more likely to say they favored charter schools (70 percent) when they were given a definition in the question, versus just being asked if they favored (63 percent) or opposed charters without any explanation of what they were.

Meanwhile, the attitudes of public school parents were a bit cooler toward charters than the overall number of participants. When given a definition and asked whether they favored or opposed charter schools, 62 percent of public school parents favored charters compared to 70 percent of the national total. When asked the same question without a definition, 55 percent of public school parents rated charters favorably compared to 63 percent of overall respondents.


Graph from the 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools by William J. Bushaw and Valerie J. Calderon. 

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