An interesting report out on the survey results of presidential pollster Cornell Belcher presented at the recent 8th Annual Quality Education Conference in Washington, DC, focused on the significance of education as a political issue in America. He concluded from his research, as reported by The National Access Network at Teachers College, Columbia University, that “education is a high priority issue for most Americans: it is a “shared value” which is largely “recession-proof”—remaining important even when the economy is down.”
Education has consistently ranked highly among Americans’ most important political concerns. Belcher reported that in 2004, Americans ranked terrorism and moral values among the most important issues, while in 2008, these had been replaced by gas prices. Economic issues and Iraq ranked among the top five issues in both years—not surprising given the economic down turn and problems faced by the military. But education also remained a constant, consistently ranking among the top five political issues regardless of economic circumstances or foreign policy concerns.
Beyond this “shared value,” Belcher also highlighted the different views Americans have of education, which he described as four clusters in the poll. Approximately 30 percent of Americans viewed education as a top priority and believed that structural changes in funding and resource distribution were necessary to improve the educational system. Another 30 percent also value education highly, but they believe the solutions are more individual—increased parental involvement and behavioral changes among students. Another 30 percent value education highly but are not willing to increase funding for it. Finally, less than 10 percent of Americans in the poll did not believe education was a top priority.
Belcher underscored his view that peoples’ core beliefs do not typically change. However, he emphasized a view that various political messages—including those in support of educational equity and opportunity—can be cast to appeal to these different groups.
It’s striking to observe the current discussions on the banking industry bailout and contrast that with the typical rhetoric when it comes to some other core needs of society such as public infrastructure renewal and education. It would appear from this survey that upwards of 60% of Americans are concerned about the public financing of schools to provide more support for our nation’s future, despite the off-the-radar nature of the current public discourse. I wonder what the different percentage categories Madison’s voters would fall into in such a survey. We certainly will have a reality check in an upcoming referendum this fall that will attempt to just keep us above water due to a broken school finance system.