November 21, 2011 We are encouraged to see in a recent poll by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times that California voters have a favorable opinion of charter schools. However, we were concerned by the misleading way some of the poll questions were phrased.
The poll found that 52% of California voters had a favorable opinion about charters and 48% felt that charter provided a superior education over traditional schools, compared to 24% who said they did not feel that charter schools provided a superior education. The poll also queried voters on issues including teacher evaluations, the CA Dream Act and whether voters were willing to pay more in taxes to fund public education.
Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), has released the following statement:
"We are encouraged to see that California voters have a favorable opinion of charter schools, which reflects the positive impact charters are having with families of all walks of life across the state.
However, the poll contains several questions that mischaracterize charters and mislead the public. There is no doubt this had an effect on the responses.
The question in the survey regarding education funding (Q 84) is particularly misleading. First, by asking respondents to choose between increasing the number of charter schools or increasing funding for public schools, the survey creates the impression that charter schools are not public schools. This is not accurate. As is widely understood by many, charter schools are public schools. Secondly, the question creates a false choice between increasing funding for all public schools and enabling charter school growth, as though it is not possible to increase funding for all public schools while continuing to expand charter schools. This is simply not the case. Third, the question fails to address the central issue that should be addressed in a poll such as this, which is whether students attending traditional public schools and charter public schools should be provided the same level of funding and facilities. We believe that the public understands that all public school students should receive the same level of funding and facilities resources regardless of the type of public school they choose to attend. Finally, the poll failed to capitalize upon an opportunity to ask whether the public's high opinion of charter schools is actually building the public's willingness to fund all public schools - charter and traditional - at higher levels. Our belief is that questions carefully presented in an unbiased manner along these lines would reveal that charter school success is increasing the public's commitment to support public education more broadly.
Another question (Q 85) posed whether or not charter schools should be able to control which students they accept. Charter schools are public schools that are open to all students. There is no debate; all public schools should be open to all students.
The survey questionnaire (Q 67) also asked respondents about factors that contribute to problems in California's public schools. One possible response asked if for-profit corporations (including those that operate charter schools) are to blame. This question is simply misleading. Had respondents known that of the 982 public charter schools operating in the state this school year, that only a handful are run by for-profit operators, they clearly would not have suggested that these organizations 'deserve a lot of the blame for the problems in California's public schools.' This question is another example of an attempt to paint charters as something they are not, namely private, for-profit entities.
Finally, the question (Q 52) regarding which organizations should be assigned the operation of low-performing schools was so poorly formulated that it is unclear as to what organizations the survey was referring. Certainly few respondents would have equated "licensed, for-profit companies" or "licensed, nonprofit organizations" as a description for charter school operators (or other community based organizations) seeking to turnaround chronically low-performing schools. As a result, these findings offer little to no helpful guidance on how the public feels about which organizations should be involved in turning around low-performing schools.
Charter schools have been part of public education in California since 1992 and since that time, detractors have tried to diminish their impact by implying they are not public schools. This has led to wide public misunderstanding about what charters are and has perpetuated funding and facilities inequities between charter and traditional public school schools. And it has pitted public school students and community against one another, which only detracts from the real issues plaguing public education today.
Parents, students and teachers that choose to be part of the charter movement should not be labeled, nor should they be treated differently from other public school families. We encourage the L.A. Times and USC to take note in the future that charter schools are public schools and to phrase poll questions in ways that don't perpetuate myths that divide us, but rather help Californians better understand the challenges that our state faces in improving public education."