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Parents Prefer Good Neighborhood Schools Over More Choice, Poll Finds

Most parents like their public school and want to support teachers, whom they trust more than anyone else to make choices for education, a new poll by the American Federation of Teachers found. School choice initiatives ranked low on parents' priorities. 

The national poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates, surveyed 1,200 parents of public school students—including 233 African-American parents, 371 Hispanic parents, and 196 parents of all races in 10 major cities. The final results were adjusted in weighting so that no group was overrepresented. The interviews were conducted online between July 24 and August 3. 

Almost 40 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 29 percent identified as Republicans, and 33 percent identified as Independents. Nearly half of the parents have a child who qualifies for the federal free/reduced lunch program, a marker for low-income households.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said their public school was "excellent or good," 20 percent said it was "adequate," and just 7 percent said their public school was "not so good or poor." 

Just over 70 percent of parents said they would prefer a good quality neighborhood public school for their children over the ability to have more choice of what schools they can send their children to. Separated by race, 76 percent of white parents wanted good neighborhood schools—compared to just 60 percent of African-American parents and 66 percent of Hispanic parents. 

When asked how to improve education, 80 percent of parents said efforts should be focused on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their neighborhood. Twenty percent said there should be more public charter schools and access to school vouchers to "allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense." (A recent Education Next poll found that public support for charter schools has fallen 12 percent from last year, although opposition toward school vouchers has softened.)

Most parents also disapprove of reducing spending on traditional public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools, the poll found. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump had included major school choice initiatives in their education budget proposal, despite also calling for a $9.2 billion cut. The Senate budget committee rejected both the funding cut and the school choice initiatives

"That agenda is completely at odds with what we are seeing with parents on the ground and what we see in this poll," Randi Weingarten, the AFT president, said on a press call, adding that the survey attempted to ask questions in a neutral way. "I hope [DeVos], in her position as the secretary of education, as opposed to an ideologue or an advocate, actually starts listening to what parents and teachers and community advocates are saying. We need our public schools." 

The AFT poll also asked parents their education policy agenda: 60 percent strongly approve of expanding access to career and technical education/vocational programs, 58 percent strongly approve of reducing class sizes, especially in the early grades, and 55 percent strongly approve of giving extra resources and support to turn around struggling neighborhood schools. 

Parents most want their public schools to be safe and secure, to make sure students graduate with the knowledge and academic skills to succeed in college, and to develop students' critical thinking and reasoning skills. Parents most want teachers to understand individual needs of each child and to care about children. When asked how to improve teaching, 73 percent of parents said to treat teachers like professionals, raise hiring standards, and give new and struggling teachers more support and training. The remainder of parents said schools should regularly remove poorly performing teachers from the classroom. 

Seventy-nine percent of parents have confidence in public school teachers to have the right ideas for public schools, followed by principals and parent organizations. Only 38 percent of parents have confidence in their state legislatures to have the right ideas. DeVos and Trump tied for second-to-last place, with just 33 percent of parents saying they trusted the two to have the right idea for public schools. Only 23 percent of parents trust hedge fund managers to have the right idea for public schools. 

Three-quarters of parents have heard at least a little about DeVos, and 44 percent of those who are familiar with the secretary disapprove of her performance. Twenty-three percent approve of the job DeVos is doing (the rest have no opinion). 

Weingarten has long been outspoken in her criticism of DeVos. This summer, she called DeVos' school choice proposals "only slightly more polite cousins of segregation," which prompted some calls for the longtime union head to resign. DeVos embarked today on a six-state tour to see schools that are "rethinking education"—which Weingarten acknowledged on the press call with a pointed barb that "some of us have been in schools for weeks already." 

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