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Voter Attitudes on School Prayer, Vouchers, and NCLB


If I were writing this as a traditional news story, this would be my lead:

"Forty-two percent of voters surveyed in a recent Associated Press-Yahoo poll said they would be much more likely, or somewhat more likely, to vote for a candidate who supports teacher-led prayer in public schools."

But since this is my blog, here's what I will say:

"For the 42 percent of voters who think teacher-led prayer is such a good idea that they would base their choice for president on it, have you considered regulating such prayer? Imagine what the teachers could pray about: 'Dear God, please don't let my cheerleading routine end up on YouTube.'"

Deep within the AP-Yahoo poll, conducted Dec. 14-20 with 1,821 adults, are a few interesting tidbits about voters' feelings on education. Of those polled, 847 were Democrats and 655 were Republicans, with the rest being independent or unaffiliated with a party.

Interestingly, when voters were asked to name their top issue, education wasn't even on the list of choices they were given. However, voters were later asked more specific questions about three education issues.

Of those polled, voters seem to like teacher-led prayer about as much as they hate No Child Left Behind.

First, on prayer. While 42 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports teacher-led prayer in public schools, 27 percent said they'd be much less, or somewhat less, likely to support a candidate for that same view. Thirty percent said the issue made no difference to them.

Candidates who support scrapping NCLB get similar support (good news for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the Democratic presidential candidate who has made this his education mantra). Forty-six percent said they'd be more likely to support a candidate who wants to get rid of the law, while 27 percent say that hard-line stance would make them less likely to support the candidate. Twenty-six percent said it made no difference. (For more about candidates' positions on NCLB, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing just compiled a list of what the presidential candidates are saying about the law.)

The poll also gauged voters' feelings toward candidates who support federally funded vouchers to send children to private schools. More voters said they would be less likely to support a candidate who favored vouchers.


So what if I'm a reformed Muslim atheist who has converted to scientology.

Are those 42% ok with having a prayer led by me?


So today, just over 1/4th of voters support candidates who support NCLB, and there isn't likely to be a penalty for opposing hard accountability. And the news gets better. The majority of teachers once supported NCLB (and I did too) but now its about as popular among teachers as Bush and the Iraq war.

RAND just gave a "mixed" review of NCLB and it analyzed polling data of teachers in California, Pennsylvannia and Georgia. Georgia, it reported, made a special effort to stress professional development and collaborative approaches and the majority of its teachers reported that reforms that grew out of the law did not interfere with their personal teaching style. Perhaps as a consequence, about 1/2 of Georgia teachers saw benefits of NCLB. In the other states, teachers said that NCLB-related changes interfered with their personal style, and about 2/3rds opposed the law.

RAND also noted that it is teachers who must implement educational reforms. If nonteachers would look up for a minute from the horserace aspect of NCLB politics, and would recognize why the NCLB concept is dead AS A POTENTIALLY POSITIVE FORCE. We teachers have voted with our feet.

When I went to Iowa for Obama, I repeatedly heard that the home of the Iowa Testing Service never bought into the CRT-driven accountability of NCLB, and Iowans are proud of their schools. I imagine that all candidates have been getting an earful. I know that the Obama staff brought back a detailed set of complaints about NCLB from students, teachers, and parents.

This year, the Executive Summaries of many reports concluded that NCLB produced "mixed" results, giving the Bush team another chance to spin the evidence. But if you read the bodies of the research, a clear pattern is emerging - that billions of dollars has either produced minimal improvements or actual harm to poor schools.

And frustratingly, the press still accepts the NCLB vocabulary. Perhaps because they defer to power, editors still refer to NCLB as "reform" and its opponents as "special interests." By now, editors should require a term like "controversial" or "increasingly unpopular" to qualify references to NCLB and demand a respectful term for the majority of teachers and citizens who demand a different approach.

Thanks for digging through this. For other readers, the questions you referenced are on page 18 of the report.

The answers on vouchers were closer than you suggest -- 39% said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supported a federal voucher program, but 33% were more likely and 28% said it made no difference. All of this is in the context of +/- 2.5%, so the difference between them may be less than appears. It also doesn't address the federal aspect of the question - many of the voucher supporters I've met would have responded negatively, not because they oppose vouchers, but because they'd argue the program should be run from state or local levels.

Many young teachers follow non-traditional (read Christian) religious traditions. Who decides what prayer a teacher is to use? Which religious tradition will the schools adopt? Can I make up my own if I choose to call my "higher power" the Traveling Nome who lives in my garden? Prayer in schools, led by authority figures such as principals and teachers is a red herring designed to drive a wedge between groups. Thanks to the Current Occupant and his ilk, we do not need any more of these kinds of issues.

No to NCLB.
Yes, to silent prayer of one's own choosing.

It's all in how you ask the question, dear folks. NCLB has become shorthand for everything that is wrong, unpleasant, or difficult to deal with. However, when the public is polled regarding accountability in education, the answers come out differently.

What seems to go unnoticed while calling for accountability is the burgeoning use of private, charter, magnet schools and the home schooling efforts. If NCLB is so effective and oh-so-good, why are parents opting out for educational venues that bypass the very statutes they support?

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