Small classes, universal vouchers favored in post-election survey

Jan 07, 2014, 07:00 ET from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 7, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Although Americans see reducing classroom sizes as a plus, smaller is not considered better when it comes to the scope of private school voucher programs, according to a Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey.

Those were the findings from a series of school reform questions in Harvard University's 2012 post-election Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). The national sample of 1,000 adults was sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which released the results this week in a new study

Behind smaller class sizes, those surveyed ranked increasing technology in schools as the next most effective option followed by school accountability, which included closing failing schools, and, in the middle, school vouchers. Respondents saw reducing teachers' unions' influence, paying teachers based partially on student performance, and lengthening school days as the least effective reforms.

"Diverse reactions to education reform actually reinforce the need for greater school choice," Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, said. "School vouchers are an essential vehicle to let families drive the reforms they want.

"For example, just because longer school days are not popular to some doesn't mean we should do away with the idea," Enlow said. "Some parents need their children to spend more time in school. School choice would afford them the flexibility to find schools with that offering."

School choice policies were a particular focus of Friedman's CCES questions, as respondents were asked which model they support most. Tax-credit reimbursements for educational expenses and tax-credit scholarships provided by nonprofits were in a statistical tie for first.

Education savings accounts, a new policy provided only in Arizona where families receive state-funded debit cards to purchase educational services and save unused funds for college, placed third.

Among vouchers, a "universal" plan in which all families could participate earned the strongest support, followed by vouchers for students with disabilities. Vouchers solely for low-income families—a model that has become law in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin over the past three years—were the least popular.

"Americans' responses to school choice policies really are counter to what most state and federal lawmakers say and do when it comes to the creation of these programs," Dick Carpenter, author of the Friedman study, said. "Those surveyed more strongly support vouchers being available to all families, not just those considered disadvantaged."

That finding was corroborated when CCES respondents were asked their reasons for supporting school choice. Most favored was making parents "free to choose their child's school—public or private—no matter their income level, race/ethnicity, social status, or personal attributes."

That statement outranked "forc[ing] all schools to compete for students" and giving "equal opportunity" to "poor and minority students…trapped in bad schools."

The Friedman study also provided a historical review of surveys conducted by Harvard's Education Next and Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup on vouchers and charter schools showing their popularity over time.

The CCES methodology and literature review are available in "School Choice Signals: Research Review and Survey Experiments" at

SOURCE The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice