Thursday, October 27, 2005

Parents Support School Vouchers

In the same Survey on Faith and Family in America that I wrote about yesterday, another question was asked that we have not been hearing so much about lately: school vouchers. There was only one question about it on the survey, and the answers have not been reported in any of the press accounts of the survey. I think it shows strongly the appeal of vouchers to parents, and is worth wider discussion.

The survey asked:

Q.52 Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement. Parents should get tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools instead of public schools?

This wording should push the answers in an anti-voucher direction – the choice of the words “tax-funded” and “instead” are favored by opponents of vouchers. By contrast, a pro-voucher wording might be “Parents should be able to choose the best school for their children, using their portion of the taxes collected for education,” or something like that.

Therefore, it is doubly interesting that despite wording that should suppress a pro-voucher response, nearly two-thirds of parents support having the choice of vouchers.

Nearly half (49%) of all respondents favor vouchers, and most of them (31% of the total) favor them “strongly.” When we move from all respondents in general, to parents in particular, the proportion favoring vouchers leaps from half to two thirds, with most of them favoring vouchers strongly.

What is even more interesting is that single parents, who generally are more liberal than married parents, take the conservative, pro-voucher view even more strongly than the marrieds do. Whereas 40% of married parents strongly favor vouchers, 45% -- almost half -- of single parents do.

By contrast, barely a fifth of parents strongly oppose vouchers – 21% for married parents, and only 17% for single parents.

I will revisit this question when the full dataset is released, to see how other groupings – by race, class, sex, and religion – feel about vouchers.

Until then, we have this strong finding to ponder: when it comes to schools, parents are strongly pro-choice.


Dee from the Hub said...

I think many parents think that private schools offer better educational opportunities and the ability to choose for the most part what type of moral education that child will receive. If I had children and I could choose to send them to a private school with equal or better educational opportunities, plus an ability to choose the type of moral guidance they receive I would choose that. The fact is for much of our children's day they are in the hands of teachers and schools. There are some great public schools our their and some great public school teachers, but private schools can afford to recruit the best and brightest teachers and pay them more. Private schools especially in urban areas are often times safer places to for children to be sent also.

Gruntled said...

I think you articulate why most parents support school choice. I should note, though, that private schools typically pay less. Private school teachers have more professional autonomy, which partially makes up for the loss of money.

Marty said...

Good post. I have to wonder why they bothered to poll non-parents, who have no particular stake in the matter (they pay the same taxes, no matter where parents send their kids to school).

Also, you noted two points in the biased wording of the question, but there is another: "private or religious schools". As if religious schools are not private? Clearly designed to appeal to the anti-religion crowd...

Gruntled said...

I agree that specifying "private or religious" emphasizes the point for anti-religious types. In fairness, that is an idiom in private school talk. There were only a couple of questions about schools, and the whole survey is about faith and family in general, so it makes sense that there are non-parents in the survey as a whole.

Gruntled said...

[Posted for Paul Jolly]

I think parents are so petrified of public schools that they’ll do anything to send their kids to private schools. What they fail to realize is that one of the reasons why private schools succeed is because it takes a certain class of parent to think that education is important enough to pay for it. Those same parents are the ones who think it’s important to discipline their children correctly and to instill values in them. The bottom line is that private schools don’t have some magic formula, they just have (for the most part) higher class students, and parents who care enough to do something for their kids. As soon as the government gives vouchers to anyone who wants one the kids who are “problems” in public schools will become “problems” in private schools and the private schools will be dismal too. Anybody can be great in the suburbs but what happens when inner-city kids flood the halls of LexCath, St.X, and Pres.? We need to find a way to FIX THE PROBLEM, not just run somewhere else and pray that the problem doesn’t find us. This is NOT GOING AWAY! And while America has an excellent track history of weapons expenditures (we’re #1, we’re #1), we are woefully low on the world-wide totem poll in terms of education. The day we give out vouchers is the day we say we’ve given up on public schools in America and that’s just sad.

Paul Jolly

Gruntled said...

I agree that if private schools were easier to get in to, their advantage would be diluted. On the other hand, if the pool of money for schools were controlled by all parents, it would also be easier for groups of parents to create new schools, focused on whatever the common strengths of that community are. We would have many new options of schools. Even in rural areas, if schools were not trying to driven by sports, they could be much smaller and cheaper.

Paul Gross said...

A little late to the conversation, but a topic near and dear. I have six children and have struggled with the private vs public for some time. I did send one to a private military academy in frustration with the public school system I was dealing with at the time. I have moved a lot and found that there are good public school systems; you just have to look for them. You will rarely find them in large metro areas. One of society's concerns has to be the fact that there are so many private schools. Louisville has a thriving private school sector. However, what does it do to our public schools to have so much “adverse” selection? One of the things that is an accurate predictor of a child’s success in school is the involvement of the parents. Uninvolved parents rarely send their kids to private schools. Single parent, low income parents and parents who did not go to college rarely send their kids to private schools. It is often noted how much better catholic schools (I attended for 15 years) do in relation to public schools. It is hard to expect the best from our public schools when the best go someplace else and that includes the parents whose involvement is sorely missed.
By the way, good blog. My daughter is a sophomore at Centre.

Gruntled said...

If vouchers really were universal, the distinction between public and private schools would largely disappear. There would be more market pressure on low-performing schools of either kind to produce or die. As there is, to some extent, in higher education.

A child at Centre? Clearly, a choosy and involved parent :)

Marty said...

Paul Jolly makes some great points, but then gets carried away with his dedication to liberal mantras.

First, let me concurr with him about the class of parent involved, and the results they should expect from their students. I remember a commerical once, for some breakfast food, that claimed, roughly, "studies show that children who eat a balanced breakfast do MUCH better in school." I suppose that's why so many public schools now offer free breakfast to low-income children. But it doesn't take a college degree to wonder: Is it really the food that made the difference? Or was it the fact that some students have parents who care enough to get out of bed and feed their kids before putting them on the bus? I suspect it has nothing to do with nutrition, and everything to do with caring parents.

That said, it is entirely true that the kinds of parents who care that their kids are well fed before sending them off to school are increasingly likely to send the to a private school where their investment will yeild a higher return. Which of course leaves the underperformers underrepresented in the public system, which cannot then help but underperform.

What's missing however, is the realization that these underpeforming kids from underperforming families need EXTRA help. Special help. An intense focus on their special needs, that children of a better class simply do not have. So putting the higher class kids into the same classes as the special needs kids does both a severe disservice: the needy kids don't get the focused attention that they should, and the motivated kids don't get the challenge they crave. So everybody loses. GC is right on, giving all parents vouchers would force school systems to respond to the very real -- and very different -- needs of their student bodies, rather than trying to dilute everything in the name of mediocrity, err, equality.

Oh, and just because i hinted at Pauls liberal bias:

PJ: And while America has an excellent track history of weapons expenditures (we’re #1, we’re #1), we are woefully low on the world-wide totem poll in terms of education.

Paul, are you only counting PUBLIC educational expenditures? Or are you counting the vast sums of money parents send to private schools as well? It would be a dishonest comparison if you didn't include the costs of us private-schoolers, who in addition to funding public education with our tax dollars, spend far more on our own, privately.

Who knows, maybe it was just the food after all...

Gruntled said...

I used to work in the U.S. Department of Education. My job there was to work on the educational role of families -- everyone else worked on schools. What I became convinced of was that the differences in educational achievement among kids owes nearly everything to family differences, and very little to differences in schools.

Marty said...

Sorry, that was supposed to be "...underperformers OVERrepresented in public shcools..."

Gruntled said...

When it comes to mathematics, nearly all kids are underperformers. This suggests that there is something wrong with math instruction for nearly all children.