- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Phi Delta Kappa, an organization of professional educators, and the Gallup Organization just released their annual poll on education views. But don’t take their word for it regarding what Americans really think about the state of public education. While the recent poll is their 36th such endeavor, critics nonetheless question the poll’s questions.

The executive summary says “the poll’s purpose” is to advance discussion of the issues, and that is indeed what has happened — though the discussion spins on the questions in the poll instead of the answers of the organization’s making.

Consider the voucher debate. As the Center for Education Reform points out, and rightly so, “misleading questions [skewed] the public view of school choice.” Respondents were first asked, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?” They next were asked, would they use the voucher for a “public, private or church-related school?” Clearly, the phrase “at public expense” is biased, explaining why 54 percent of respondents said they opposed vouchers. Interestingly, when asked at which type of school they would use the voucher, 40 percent of parents with children in public schools chose a private, church-related school, and 17 percent selected a non-church-related private school. Those percentages are far larger that the 38 percent that selected “a public school” to use the voucher.

Education is the top domestic issue of the Bush administration, with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) the centerpiece. The NCLB, which focuses on raising academic levels and teacher quality, and increasing parents’ educational options, draws criticism for being underfunded. Yet as Robert Enlow, the executive director of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation pointed out last week, “Parents want the freedom to choose a school based on its quality, not their address.”

There is indisputable support for vouchers in general and publicly funded vouchers in particular. Even 64 percent of childless taxpayers support publicly financed vouchers (www.friedmanfoundation.org). So, while the discussions continue as statehouses and city halls return to their perches this election cycle, we hope policy-makers don’t err in using the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey to “advance” the school choice debate. They would be as misleading as the survey questions were.

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