Is ESEA a Voting Issue?

For years now, we have heard how “education” is a top-five political issue for most Americans, usually falling behind the economy, jobs, and healthcare in terms of importance.  Despite its standing, though, most election results have shown that K-12 education issues simply are not deciding factors when one steps into the voter booth, particularly when we are casting votes for offices like U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator (and, of course, President).

As much as we may want education to be a voting issue on the national level, it simply is not (and the good folks at Ed in ’08 can back us up here).  Education is perceived by many to be a local issue, a topic best controlled by local school boards, city councils, and mayors.  We may need some state legislatures and governors to weigh in, particularly with the checkbook, but education simply is not seen as a national issue.  Even during the height of No Child Left Behind, we simply didn’t see national elections decided, or even influenced, by education issues.

Will 2010 be any different?  Yesterday the Alliance for Excellent Education released data from a recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research insinuating that the upcoming congressional elections could be different.  In reporting on public sentiment on high schools and ESEA reauthorization, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and her team found:
* Those surveyed believe “the nation’s public high school are in urgent need of improvement”
* The quality of high schools through ESEA reauthorization is a voting issue for more than 80 percent of voters, with half saying failure to act this year will impact their vote in the 2010 congressional elections
* One in four surveyed gave our high schools an excellent (A) or good (B ) grade, with 20 percent giving them a D or F
* We think our local high schools are doing better than the national average
* Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed say a high school diploma isn’t enough to get a good job
* Two-thirds say high school drop outs have a significant impact on the nation’s economy
* A majority say Congress isn’t paying enough attention to high schools

These are interesting findings, and virtually all speak to the need for ESEA reauthorization and ESEA reauthorization now.  And it helps justify the recent buzz that NCLB will be renamed the College and Career Readiness Act when ESEA finally does come up for a congressional vote.

But Eduflack has to take issue with one of the findings.  According the public summary released by the Alliance yesterday, Lake says:

Eight in ten voters want to see No Child Left Behind (NCLB ) altered in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), while just 11 percent say NCLB should be left as is.  Reauthorizing ESEA this year in a way that improves public high schools is personally important to three-quarters of voters.  Overall, voters give mixed reviews to NCLB.

I’ll completely give you the last point.  For those that know about NCLB, it will always get mixed, at best, reviews.  But the rest of the point has me scratching my head.  Lake and company surveyed 1,000 likely voters through a telephone survey last month.  The data was weighted to reflect actual population (age, education, race, political affiliation, and marital status).

Based on this finding, we are to believe that virtually all likely voters recognize that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year (or know that it was supposed to have been reauthorized years ago).  And we are to believe that 80 percent of likely voters understand the components of the current NCLB well enough to know that the current law needs to be altered to better emphasize the role of high schools in the education continuum.  

Do we honestly think that virtually every likely voter in the upcoming elections is aware of NCLB, ESEA reauthorization, and the priorities that are being debated?  Last year, Brookings released a study showing that only 1.4 percent of national news coverage in the first three quarters of 2009 focused on education issues.   And I’m willing to bet that NCLB/ESEA was but a fraction of that 1.4 percent.  So where are we getting our information?

I’m not saying that the findings are wrong.  I just worry that those surveyed are telling us what we want to hear.  We all want to say that education is an important issue.  We all want to say that we need to do a better job with our schools, particularly our high schools when we hear about drop out rates.  But aren’t we assuming an education policy knowledge among likely voters that is far, far out of whack with reality? 

Yes, we all should believe that federal policy should be changed to help improve our high schools.  But we also need to know that real improvement only comes when state and local policy, and buy in from practitioners, is part of the equation.  Policy itself does improve education.  It merely serves as a blueprint.

Perhaps I am wrong, and this November there will be an outpouring of votes cast because of ESEA and Congress’ inability to reauthorize the law.  But I doubt it.  I’d love to be wrong, but we have never enjoyed a year when congressional elections were decided on education issues.  And with the economy and healthcare still swirling, do we honestly think this is the year education moves from fifth to first place?

33 thoughts on “Is ESEA a Voting Issue?

  1. Because of the lack of news coverage, few teachers are aware of the “reforms” that have been mandated in the last few months. when educators return to school – just as the fall elections heat up – many will learn that their profession has changed radically. Many will find that “reforms” that they despise have been dumped on them without adequate planning. The anger is going to be extreme. And when teachers who supported Obama realize that his “reforms” will be doubling the amount of primitive bubble-in testing, its not going to be pretty.

  2. Your point about few in the public knowing about NCLB reauthorization is moot as the questionnaire gives that information. It says, “The current federal law that guides how all public schools, including high schools, are run is up for renewal in Congress. This federal law which is known as No Child Left Behind is formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When Congress considers renewing this law do you think it should entirely replace No Child Left Behind and take a different and new approach to fix schools; keep the main elements of No Child Left Behind and only make modest changes to the law to fix schools; or should Congress leave the law as it is and make no changes?”A better concern would be to wonder if the public knows enough about the law’s provisions to make that determination, but on an early question only 10% said they didn’t know enough about the law to have an opinion on it.

  3. Eduflack made some assertions and questions about the recent AEE poll that we would like to respond to: 1. The poll finds that 8 in 10 voters want to see NCLB changed in the reauthorization of ESEA, while 11 percent say NCLB should be left as it is. Eduflack questions this finding, asking: “Are we to believe that virtually all likely voters recognize that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year; and that 80% understand the components of the current NCLB bill well enough to know that the current law needs to be altered?” The findings of the poll should not be construed in this way at all. The poll does not indicate that voters know that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year. As AEE and the pollsters asserted at the press conference introducing the poll, if we had to guess, we would agree with Eduflack and say that most voters don’t know this. However, we certainly can say from this survey that when ESEA is introduced to voters in the survey, with concise and accurate information, that ESEA reauthorization is seen as important to voters. And when it comes to NCLB, nearly 90 percent of voters in the survey have an opinion on the NCLB policy: 47% have a favorable opinion and 44% an unfavorable opinion. We agree with Eduflack, in that most voters do not fully understand all of the intricate components of the current NCLB bill, we see in this in the focus groups we conduct throughout the country. Yet, this research shows that they do have a base of knowledge about NCLB, which combined with their own experiences and views that public high schools are in urgent need of improvement, lead us to be confident that voters can weigh-in on whether NCLB should be changed or just reauthorized as it is. So, to answer Eduflack’s question on whether the survey findings “assume an education policy knowledge among likely voters that is far out of whack with reality” — they do not. We can say with confidence that the survey met voters where they were in terms of knowledge, gave them a small, neutral, and unbiased amount of information about ESEA, and then asked voters to evaluate and make a choice based on that information as well as all the other knowledge and experiences they already have about public education and NCLB. 2.Eduflack also questioned whether “education could really takeover the economy as a key voting issue in November.” AEE and the research team of Lake and Bellwether have not made that assertion, and we would not make it as education does not rank before the economy right now in any polls we have seen. The new AEE poll does allow us to say, however, that education is an important issue and when voters do focus on the issue it is seen as important factor in how they will evaluate Congressional incumbents this fall. The AEE poll also shows that voters link the quality of public high schools and the state and progress of the national economy and our ability to compete in the global economy as well.

  4. Eduflack made some assertions and questions about the recent AEE poll that we would like to respond to: 1. The poll finds that 8 in 10 voters want to see NCLB changed in the reauthorization of ESEA, while 11 percent say NCLB should be left as it is. Eduflack questions this finding, asking: “Are we to believe that virtually all likely voters recognize that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year; and that 80% understand the components of the current NCLB bill well enough to know that the current law needs to be altered?” The findings of the poll should not be construed in this way at all. The poll does not indicate that voters know that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year. As AEE and the pollsters asserted at the press conference introducing the poll, if we had to guess, we would agree with Eduflack and say that most voters don’t know this. However, we certainly can say from this survey that when ESEA is introduced to voters in the survey, with concise and accurate information, that ESEA reauthorization is seen as important to voters. And when it comes to NCLB, nearly 90 percent of voters in the survey have an opinion on the NCLB policy: 47% have a favorable opinion and 44% an unfavorable opinion. We agree with Eduflack, in that most voters do not fully understand all of the intricate components of the current NCLB bill, we see in this in the focus groups we conduct throughout the country. Yet, this research shows that they do have a base of knowledge about NCLB, which combined with their own experiences and views that public high schools are in urgent need of improvement, lead us to be confident that voters can weigh-in on whether NCLB should be changed or just reauthorized as it is. So, to answer Eduflack’s question on whether the survey findings “assume an education policy knowledge among likely voters that is far out of whack with reality” — they do not. We can say with confidence that the survey met voters where they were in terms of knowledge, gave them a small, neutral, and unbiased amount of information about ESEA, and then asked voters to evaluate and make a choice based on that information as well as all the other knowledge and experiences they already have about public education and NCLB. 2.Eduflack also questioned whether “education could really takeover the economy as a key voting issue in November.” AEE and the research team of Lake and Bellwether have not made that assertion, and we would not make it as education does not rank before the economy right now in any polls we have seen. The new AEE poll does allow us to say, however, that education is an important issue and when voters do focus on the issue it is seen as important factor in how they will evaluate Congressional incumbents this fall. The AEE poll also shows that voters link the quality of public high schools and the state and progress of the national economy and our ability to compete in the global economy as well.

  5. Eduflack made some assertions and questions about the recent AEE poll that we would like to respond to: 1. The poll finds that 8 in 10 voters want to see NCLB changed in the reauthorization of ESEA, while 11 percent say NCLB should be left as it is. Eduflack questions this finding, asking: “Are we to believe that virtually all likely voters recognize that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year; and that 80% understand the components of the current NCLB bill well enough to know that the current law needs to be altered?” The findings of the poll should not be construed in this way at all. The poll does not indicate that voters know that ESEA is up for reauthorization this year. As AEE and the pollsters asserted at the press conference introducing the poll, if we had to guess, we would agree with Eduflack and say that most voters don’t know this. However, we certainly can say from this survey that when ESEA is introduced to voters in the survey, with concise and accurate information, that ESEA reauthorization is seen as important to voters. And when it comes to NCLB, nearly 90 percent of voters in the survey have an opinion on the NCLB policy: 47% have a favorable opinion and 44% an unfavorable opinion. We agree with Eduflack, in that most voters do not fully understand all of the intricate components of the current NCLB bill, we see in this in the focus groups we conduct throughout the country. Yet, this research shows that they do have a base of knowledge about NCLB, which combined with their own experiences and views that public high schools are in urgent need of improvement, lead us to be confident that voters can weigh-in on whether NCLB should be changed or just reauthorized as it is. So, to answer Eduflack’s question on whether the survey findings “assume an education policy knowledge among likely voters that is far out of whack with reality” — they do not. We can say with confidence that the survey met voters where they were in terms of knowledge, gave them a small, neutral, and unbiased amount of information about ESEA, and then asked voters to evaluate and make a choice based on that information as well as all the other knowledge and experiences they already have about public education and NCLB. 2.Eduflack also questioned whether “education could really takeover the economy as a key voting issue in November.” AEE and the research team of Lake and Bellwether have not made that assertion, and we would not make it as education does not rank before the economy right now in any polls we have seen. The new AEE poll does allow us to say, however, that education is an important issue and when voters do focus on the issue it is seen as important factor in how they will evaluate Congressional incumbents this fall. The AEE poll also shows that voters link the quality of public high schools and the state and progress of the national economy and our ability to compete in the global economy as well.

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