Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
You state in the news article "Surveys at Odds on Public's View of School Choice'' (Oct. 6, 1993) that polls conducted for Phi Delta Kappa and the National Catholic Educational Association by the Gallup Organization "generate new doubts about the validity of one-time 'snapshots' of public views on vouchers.''
This is so, you say, because the P.D.K. poll (taken last May) found 74 percent of respondents opposed to "allow[ing] students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense'' while the N.C.E.A. poll (taken I don't know when) showed 70 percent in favor of vouchers. The N.C.E.A. question was identical to one we have used in eight different P.D.K./Gallup polls, the last one taken in April 1991. Such a series can hardly be labeled a "one-time snapshot.'' The question was framed by the late George Gallup Sr., the father of scientific polling, and was first used in 1970:
"In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child's education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial, or private school they choose. This is called the 'voucher system.' Would you like to see such an idea adopted in this country?''(See the table below for findings from 1970 to 1991 using this question.)
This table shows opinion on vouchers rather evenly divided in all but a couple of years over a 22-year period. The relatively large "don't know'' response suggests that many people had given little thought to this issue.
What the table does not show is a trend toward strong approval of vouchers. So the N.C.E.A.-sponsored poll finding of 70 percent of respondents favoring them--a 20 percent jump in just two years--is hard to explain. But a combination of sampling error, context, and question sequence could account for much of the difference.
What really puzzles me is why you should suggest that the 1993 P.D.K. poll and the 1992 N.C.E.A. poll ought to have yielded similar divisions in opinion on vouchers. Ours didn't even mention vouchers. Because the word is becoming increasingly loaded, we deliberately avoided it in order to come directly to grips with the central question: Do people favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense? A solid national majority--nearly three-fourths of the voting public if this was a representative sample--oppose the idea and only 2 percent are undecided.
Despite many complicating factors specific to California, I will be greatly surpised if that state's voters defy this national near-consensus in their voucher-initiative vote next month.
Phi Delta Kappa
To the Editor:
Regarding the Phi Delta Kappa and National Catholic Educational Association polls on voucher plans, your reporter correctly found that the wording of the question is crucial.
The N.C.E.A. question (which P.D.K. and Gallup had used for several years before 1990, with quite ambiguous results) is worthless because it hopelessly scrambles together the separate issues of choice among publicschools, on the one hand, and tax support of private, mostly sectarian, schools, on the other. P.D.K. wisely sharpened its questions after receiving criticism from members, including this writer.
That the recent polls commissioned by P.D.K. and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching are accurate indicators of public opinion has been borne out by Colorado's 1992 voucher referendum (supporters lost 2 to 1), Oregon's similar 1990 vote (a voucher-clone tuition-tax-credit plan lost 2 to 1), and earlier referendums in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Michigan (twice in each), and in Missouri, Nebraska, Idaho, the District of Columbia, California, Oregon, Washington State, and Alaska.
It's really quite simple. While most Americans favor expanding choice among public schools, they do not want to be taxed to pay for sectarian private schools which practice forms of discrimination not allowed in public schools and which are not under meaningful public control. Most Americans value public education and our constitutional arrangement of separation of church and state.
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.
To the Editor:
Education Week's flattering treatment of Peg Luksik and her activities in opposing education reform in Pennsylvania ("Pa. Parent Becomes 'Mother' of Outcomes Revolt,'' Sept. 22, 1993) was so gushingly one-sided, I'm surprised you didn't nominate Ms. Luksik for sainthood.
Most disturbing of all, however, was your characterization of the controversy surrounding education reform and outcomes-based education as a "lopsided fight'' between so-called "parents' rights'' groups and state-government bureaucrats.
Thousands of teachers in Pennsylvania believe outcomes-based education holds the promise of genuine school reform and improvement, because it involves teachers, parents, and members of local communities in reshaping school curricula and assessment in ways never allowed before. That is why the Pennsylvania State Education Association supports outcomes-based education as defined by the Pennsylvania state board of education.
Your story also neglected to mention that outcomes-based education is supported by the Pennsylvania Parent Teacher Association; by the Pennsylvania Business Roundtable, which represents the state's largest corporations; and by a number of other education and business groups.
You also neglected to report the numerous occasions Ms. Luksik's criticisms of outcomes-based education have been contradicted by the facts, and her misrepresentations of academic researchers' conclusions about it as an educational theory and model.
During the ongoing public debate over outcomes-based education this year, the P.S.E.A. representatives contacted Education Week editors and reporters, and suggested there was a side of the story which had not been told. Your simplistic characterizations of the issues and the people involved suggest your staff is not interested in a serious treatment of the subject.
Pennsylvania State Education
To the Editor:
As I finished reading "Engler's Choice Plan Includes Student Grants'' in your Oct. 13, 1993, issue, my eyes glanced to the column on the opposite page, where Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol is advertised. I wonder if any Michigan legislators have read it. Instead of a 50-cents-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, how about a hefty tax on politicians who propose what they call "bold, innovative'' plans that are actually just more of the same old, same old.
Hurrah to Gov. John Engler for maintaining the status quo!