Americans believe children get the best education at private and parochial schools, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.
When asked about the five types of schooling offered in the United States, survey respondents ranked independent private schools first and public schools last, based on the quality of the education. Here’s how the rankings broke down when surveyors asked about schools’ ability to provide an excellent or good education:
- Independent private schools: 71 percent
- Parochial schools: 63 percent
- Charter schools: 55 percent
- Home schools: 46 percent
- Public schools: 44 percent
Both Democrats and Republicans shared a similarly high view of private and parochial education but differed on the other options. Among Democrats, charter and public schools ranked the same, 48 percent, while homeschooling came in last with 38 percent. Republicans ranked public schools last, with 38 percent saying they offered a good or excellent education, while charters got 68 percent and homeschooling 55 percent.
Gallup first conducted this education survey in 2012. In the last five years, appreciation for public schools rose overall by 7 percent, mirroring an identical decrease in the view of independent private education. But public school perceptions improved most among Republicans, who ranked them 9 percentage points higher this year than in 2012. Approval for public schools rose just 4 percentage points among Democrats.
The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats showed in their evaluation of charter schools. The view of charters remained unchanged among Republicans, with 62 percent saying they provide an excellent or good education. But appreciation for charters among Democrats fell 13 percentage points, from 61 to 48 percent.
That drop mirrors results from this year’s EdNext poll, which showed overall support for charter schools has dropped by 12 percentage points in the last 12 months. The changing attitude could be due in part to what seems like a relentless drumbeat against school choice, a cacophony that’s only grown louder since Donald Trump became president. Charters once offered a school choice option both Democrats and Republicans could support. But now, some say they’re too closely tied with Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) education policy expert Rick Hess cautions against drawing too many broad conclusions from the EdNext poll, mostly because it represents a statistical anomaly. Polls have shown a steady increase in support for charters since Minnesota adopted the first charter law in 1991, Hess, along with AEI research assistant Amy Cummings, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today this week. The sudden drop “seems to come out of the blue.”
“That should give pause to those racing to offer grand explanations,” Hess and Cummings conclude. “After all, while we may indeed be entering a new phase of the charter school debate—one where charters have lost much of their luster—prudence suggests awaiting further confirmation before concluding we’ve just witnessed a sudden about-face in a two-decade trend.”
The EdNext poll offers better news for proponents of other forms of school choice. Overall, opposition to tax credit scholarships and vouchers, the two most common forms of choice, has fallen. Last year, 29 percent of poll respondents said they opposed tax credit scholarships. This year, opposition fell to 24 percent. That could bode well for the Trump administration, which has floated the possibility of creating a federal tax credit program. Opposition to vouchers dropped from 44 percent last year to 37 percent this year.
Vouchers enjoy more support when they’re described as mechanisms for choice, rather than as a method for giving taxpayer money to private schools. Only 28 percent of respondents like the idea of using “government funds” to pay for private education. Education savings accounts, which are similar to vouchers but provide more flexibility in how the funds are used, also have limited support, with just 37 percent of respondents saying they like the idea.