It’s all in how you ask the question …

Phi Delta Kappan today released its annual poll on public school attitudes, and it found mixed results for the support of school choice. The poll found increased support for charter schools and choice generally, but Kappan found that only one in three Americans likes vouchers.

That’s little surprise, given the way the voucher question was asked:

Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?

Earlier this month, Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University released the results from a similar poll and found record levels of support for vouchers. That disparity might be attributed to the way Education Next-PEPG addressed the issue.

When it came to private options, the poll sought answers through several different questions. It first randomly assigned respondents a “voucher-friendly” question:

A proposal has been made that would give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?

It then randomly assigned a “voucher-unfriendly” question:

A proposal has been made that would use government funds to help pay the tuition of low-income students whose families would like them to attend private schools. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?

Not surprisingly, more people say they like vouchers if asked the friendly question (47 percent) than if they were asked the unfriendly question (39 percent). Support also increases across the board if the private option takes the form of a tax credit scholarship. Additionally, Education Next breaks down support by race and shows that black and Hispanic groups overwhelmingly support private options compared with affluent respondents or with teachers. 

This is not meant to discount the sweep and significance of the Kappan poll. I flirt with these comparisons only with the hope that headline writers heed these subtleties before we read that “Charters are in, vouchers are out.”

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  1. Ed is Watching » Four Takes on the Phi Delta Kappa Education Poll: Pretty Darn Klever, Huh? - August 17, 2011

    […] Emerson at redefinED has his own justified critique, observing that the wording of the question on vouchers suppressed favorable responses — […]