- David M. Houston
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David M. Houston
Drawing on 16 years of nationally representative survey data from 2007-2022, I demonstrate that partisan gaps—the average differences in public opinion between Democrats and Republicans—have widened on many education issues. The growth of the partisan gaps consistently exceeds what would be expected due to the changing demographic compositions of the parties alone. In most cases, widening partisan gaps are primarily attributable to sorting (the alignment of one’s party affiliation and one’s issue positions) rather than polarization (increasing support for more extreme positions relative to more moderate positions). However, polarization is also increasing on some of the most divisive issues. Among those who are sorting, individuals are overwhelmingly switching their issues positions to align with their party affiliations rather than switching their party affiliations to align with their issue positions.
In spring 2020, nearly every U.S. public school closed at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Existing evidence suggests that local political partisanship and teachers union strength were better predictors of fall 2020 school re-opening status than Covid case and death rates. We replicate and extend these analyses using data collected over the 2020-21 academic year. We demonstrate that Covid case and death rates were meaningfully associated with initial rates of in-person instruction. We also show that all three factors—Covid, partisanship, and teachers unions—became less predictive of in-person instruction as the school year continued. We then leverage data from two nationally representative surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward education and identify an as-yet undiscussed factor that predicts in-person instruction: public support for increasing teacher salaries. We speculate that education leaders were better able to manage the logistical and political complexities of school re-openings in communities with greater support for educators.
We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.
Do Americans hold a consistent set of opinions about their public schools and how to improve them? From 2013 to 2018, over 5,000 unique respondents participated in more than one consecutive iteration of the annual, nationally representative Education Next poll, offering an opportunity to examine individual-level attitude stability on education policy issues over a six-year period. The proportion of participants who provide the same response to the same question over multiple consecutive years greatly exceeds the amount expected to occur by chance alone. We also find that teachers offer more consistent responses than their non-teaching peers. By contrast, we do not observe similar differences in attitude stability between parents of school-age children and their counterparts without children.
States and districts are increasingly incorporating measures of achievement growth into their school accountability systems, but there is little research on how these changes affect the public’s perceptions of school quality. We conduct a nationally representative online survey experiment to identify the effects of providing participants with information about their local school districts’ average achievement status and/or average achievement growth. In the control group, participants who live in higher status districts tend to grade their local schools more favorably. The provision of status information does not fundamentally alter this relationship. The provision of growth information, however, reshapes Americans’ views about educational performance. Once informed, participants’ evaluations of their local public schools better reflect the variation in district growth.