Gilens, Charter Schools, and the Education Reform Advocacy Agenda


To summarize the past two posts:

1. Gilen’s research demonstrates that when 80% of the wealthy support a policy, that policy is much more likely to pass (though probability is still only 50%).

2. Depending on the poll 70-90% of the wealthy support charter schools.

3. Depending on the poll, 60-75% of the general public support charter schools as well.

This data bodes well for continued charter school expansion.

But I’d like to consider an other angle: what does this mean for education reform advocacy strategies?

Over the past decade, there has been a marked increase in the number of “pro-reform” advocacy organizations. Groups like Democrats For Education Reform, Stand for Children, and Black Alliance for Education Options are more active than ever before.

So to the extent their agendas includes charter schools, what should these organizations be doing?

Well, it seems that the national public relations battle is in good shape. Both the wealthy and the general public support charter schools. So I’d spend less time there.

At this point, the battle seems to be much more one of special interests. At every level of government, there are officials that can either promote or restrict charter schools. The key to expanding charters, simply enough, seems to be putting enough pressure on these officials so that they support policies that promote charter schools.

Of course, different officials might respond to different tactics. For some it might be education on the issues, for others it might be campaign donations, for others it might be a public march in front of their offices.

But these types of efforts – those directly tailored at specific individuals that influence very specific policy – seem like the best use of advocacy resources.

Additionally, if the wealthy in a specific micro-market do not support charter schools, cultivating their support is probably useful as well.

But educating or influencing the general public seems like a waste of resources, both because the public already generally supports charter schools, and Gilen’s research indicates that their preferences do not have that much impact.

So here’s my advice to charter school advocates:

1. Identify which political officials can limit charter school expansion.

2. Determine what tactics will influence these specific officials.

3. Direct the vast majority of advocacy resources to these tactics.

A caveat: I’m not arguing that it’s ideal that the wealthy have so much influence or that special interest advocacy seems to be the best use of resources. I’m just trying to read the world as it is.

Lastly, I’m by no means in expert in politics. Let me know if I’m misreading any of the data, or if any additional readings would add nuance to the above.

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