The 2020 Education Next Survey reveals sharply growing approval of online education, record-high support for public schools

New this year: Populists across both political parties support school choicePlus: Parent and teacher experiences during Covid-19 shutdowns

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Aug. 18, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Parents are willing to let their high school students complete nearly half of their courses online, and despite challenges posed by remote learning this spring, confidence in public K–12 schools is at a record high, the 14th annual Education Next survey of American public opinion on education policy finds.

For the first time this year, the survey—conducted annually by Harvard researchers—measures populist sentiment among Americans, finding that populism spans both the Republican and Democratic parties. The most-populist Americans, regardless of political party, assign lower grades to public schools locally and nationally and express greater approval for measures to expand school choice.

The 2020 Education Next survey of more than 4,000 respondents includes a nationally representative sample of adults as well as representative oversamples of teachers, Black, and Hispanic respondents. Interactive graphics present both 2020 findings and long-term trends.

Among the key findings:

  • Online Education. In 2020, 73% of parents say they are willing to have their child take some high school courses via the Internet—a jump of 17 percentage points since 2009. On average, Americans say that high school students should be allowed to take 11 courses online toward the 24 courses typically required for graduation. This response represents a 22% increase from the average response of 9 courses in 2017.
  • Opinion on Public Schools and Teachers. Americans’ approval of public schools remains at or near the peak confidence recorded by the Education Next survey since it began in 2007. Fifty-eight percent of respondents give their local public schools a grade of A or B (down 2 points from last year), and 30% give the nation’s public schools a similar grade (the highest level the survey has recorded). The public also gives teachers high marks during this difficult time. On average, respondents rate 61% of local teachers as either excellent or good—a 5-percentage-point increase since 2018. They rate 14% of teachers as unsatisfactory.
  • Populism and Education Policy. Populism is a distinctive brand with adherents in both parties. Though 56% of Republicans rank above the median in terms of populism, so do 46% of Democrats. Moreover, populism is a strong predictor of education-policy views: The most-populist Americans assign lower grades to public schools locally and nationally and express greater approval for measures to expand school choice.
  • Teacher Pay. Support for teacher pay hikes remains nearly as high as it has been at any point since 2008, when we first surveyed the public on the issue. Among those given information about current salary levels in their state, 55% say teacher salaries should increase—essentially the same as last year and a jump of 19 percentage points over 2017. Among those not given salary information, 65% back an increase.  
  • School Spending. Americans are split on whether to increase overall investment in public schools. Among those told current expenditure levels, 45% say that K–12 school spending should increase. This level of support is 5 percentage points lower than last year’s, but it still registers 6 points higher than in 2017. Democrat (56%), Black (63%), and Hispanic (55%) respondents are more likely to back a boost in funding than are Republican (31%) and white (39%) respondents.
  • School Choice. Support for school-choice reforms either holds steady or declines modestly since last year. The policy of giving tax credits to fund private-school scholarships for low-income students—a concept backed by the Trump administration and recently given a boost by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue—draws the most support, including from 59% of Republicans and 56% of Democrats. Attitudes toward charter schools divide along party lines: 54% of Republicans support charters, compared to only 37% of Democrats. Vouchers to help pay private-school tuition continue to command strong support among Black (60% for universal vouchers; 65% for low-income vouchers) and Hispanic (62% for universal vouchers; 59% for low-income vouchers) respondents. Universal vouchers are more popular among Republicans than Democrats (56% to 47%), but the reverse is true of vouchers targeted to low-income students (45% to 52%). Neither type of voucher polarizes public opinion as much as charter schools do.
  • Free College. Fifty-five percent of Americans endorse the idea of making public four-year colleges free to attend, a dip of 5 percentage points since last year. The concept divides Americans along party lines, with 74% of Democrats but just 29% of Republicans expressing support.
  • Trump Effect. On five issues—Common Core, charter schools, tax-credit-funded scholarships, merit pay for teachers, and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants—information about Trump’s positions polarizes opinion, moving Republicans toward the president and pushing Democrats away.
  • Covid-19. In a companion essay, we report parents’ perspectives on their children’s educational experiences during the pandemic-related school closures, including how schools across all three K–12 sectors—district, charter, and private—responded. See “What American Families Experienced When Covid-19 Closed Their Schools” for more details.  

About the Authors: Michael B. Henderson is assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication and director of its Public Policy Research Lab. David M. Houston is assistant professor of education policy at George Mason University. Paul E. Peterson is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard University, Director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG), and Senior Editor of Education Next. M. Danish Shakeel is a postdoctoral research fellow at PEPG. Martin R. West is the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of Education at Harvard University, Deputy Director of PEPG, and Editor-in-chief of Education Next.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit


Major Gains for Online High-School Coursework
Almost three-quarters of parents say they are willing to have their children take some high school courses online—marking a 17 percentage-point increase since 2009. More Black and Hispanic Respondents Support School Choice 
Black and Hispanic respondents are more likely than white respondents to favor measures to expand school choice, including vouchers, tax credits to fund private-school scholarships, and charter schools.

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