More Work Needs to Be Done to Tell Families about Educational Opportunity



Last week, Education Next released their 2017 poll on school reform. This year’s nationally representative survey is the 11th such report from this journal, a collaboration between the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Advocates and opponents of parental choice in education and the media covering such topics can use this poll to gauge the country’s temperature on different ideas to create more opportunities for students at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

But educational choice has been an especially hot topic this year in Texas and around the country, making the results of interest to a wider audience than policy wonks. Some Texans expected lawmakers to use the recently concluded special session to create more learning options for students. While state charter schools should see additional funding for facilities, education savings accounts and similar opportunities for state families remain out of reach.

Nationally, President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, have voiced support for school choice and generated headlines.

This year’s survey included questions on higher education. When respondents were told how much college will cost for a child and how much that student could expect to earn later, 75 percent of parents supported the idea of sending their student to college for a 4-year degree. Considering the extraordinary levels of student debt and burgeoning free, online college market, more could be done to educate families about other options. College remains a great choice for some but doesn’t have to be the only choice for high school graduates.

This year’s survey also asked respondents about education savings accounts. Parents were more likely to support the accounts than the general public (45 percent v. 37 percent), and half of black respondents were in favor of the accounts.

We should watch the results from this question in future years as more states adopt the accounts (lawmakers in six states have enacted the accounts since 2011). And the results should be compared to other state-based surveys that found higher levels of support for the accounts using different language in the questions that describe such accounts. EdChoice has conducted at least 10 such surveys that found levels of support greater than 50 percent—including a survey in Texas that found 61 percent of respondents supported the idea of education savings accounts.

Despite the activity that generated headlines about education in 2017, students could use more information about their postsecondary options. And more parents need to know how they could use education savings accounts to challenge students to reach their potential. Everyone can rally around the idea that families should have more ways to help their children succeed.

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