What New Orleanians Say About Education Reform When You Call and Ask Their Opinions

I have mixed feelings on public opinion polls.

On one hand, I feel like a pollster can get any answer she wants by manipulating question wording, especially on complicated policy issues.

As such, I prefer to study revealed preferences (behaviors) instead of polling results.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to get behavioral data on all issues, so polls are sometimes the best we have.

At the very least, people who argue for and against the New Orleans reforms, especially national commentators, should grapple with what actual New Orleanians say about the reforms.

With that in mind, see below for some data from the Cowen Institute’s new poll results.

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A 3:1 ration in favor of support of charter schools is pretty significant. This is an odd result if it is actually true that charter schools have ruined public education in New Orleans.

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Unlike two years ago, more African-Americans now believe that schools are better than before the storm, though the margin is slim. Interestingly enough, white support has declined.

For both African-American and white results, I’d be curious to see if there is a difference in between (1) people who newly send their children to public schools (2) people who don’t send their children to public schools (3) people who sent their children to public schools both before and after the storm.

All told, I think this is a real issue for reformers. Middling African-American support threatens both the legitimacy and the sustainability of reforms, in New Orleans and elsewhere.

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Most New Orleanians, like myself, do not believe a child should be assigned to a school based on her address. I still find it remarkable that many people believe that geographic assignment is the more just policy.

That being said, this might be another place where a polling question prevents nuance. There are regulatory solutions that can attempt to combine both  geographic preference and citywide choice, and I’d be curious to understand how families might preference various regulatory regimes.

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Given how difficult transformations can be, it is interesting to see this strong of support. I’m curious if we’d see this amount of support for outright school closures.


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Given that one of the major criticisms of the New Orleans reforms is that they were done without local democratic oversight, it’s interesting to see nearly a 2:1 margin of support for the state takeover.

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Support for return within two years has gone up significantly, but the current policy of schools being able to choose still whether or not to come back is still (barely) the most popular policy.

This will clearly be an issue to watch over the next year or two.

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