February 20, 2014

Guest Post – 50CAN’s Marc Porter Magee on his Education Roadtrip

By Bellwether

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Marc Porter Magee, president and founder of 50CAN, just launched a national look at what people think about education. In this guest post he describes some of what they found. 50Can is a nonprofit organization advocating for a high-quality education for all kids.

Ever wonder if people in New England think differently about education than people in the South? The West vs. the Midwest?

We did and the result is 50CAN’s Education Roadtrip, an interactive journey through the education views of 6,400 Americans across the eight major regions of the country.

The idea for this project came out of the work we’ve done over the past three years advocating for education policies in seven different states. After running 32 legislative campaigns that have helped enact 28 state policies, we got this sense that Americans are much more united on education issues than we might have thought.

That’s why we decided to conduct this 8-region poll. We needed hard data to help us really understand both the regional nuances and the areas of national consensus.

Here are a few highlights of what we found:

Character is king

Ed reformers love to talk about economic competitiveness. And more often than not, the economy is the first thing we cite when making the case for change. But that’s thinking like a president, not a parent.

When we asked voters to cite the long-term value of education, they chose “building character” over “healthy economy” by a 2 to 1 margin.

This viewpoint does vary a bit by region. For example, twice as many people in the Midwest picked “building character” compared to the mid-Atlantic, just next door. But overall, we see that education matters to people in large part because of the kind of person it helps children become.

Trusting teachers the most

When it comes to who the public trusts to determine how best to improve our schools, no matter what region you’re in, teachers come out on top. Following closely behind this trust in teachers (78%) is trust in parents (68%) and principals (67%).

Now teachers unions aren’t shy about saying they speak for teachers. But regardless of what people think about unions or where they live, it’s clear that voters see a big difference between ordinary teachers and teachers unions, who were trusted by only 40% of voters.

If teachers are tops, which group was trusted the least? Whatever region you’re in the answer is the same: elected officials in D.C. These results underscore why it’s so important for local leaders—particularly teachers, parents and principals—to be the ones pushing for changes in our schools.

And the gold goes to …

The past two weeks we’ve been watching athletes compete for the gold in Sochi and we wondered: which states would win in an education Olympics?

When we asked voters to give states in their region gold, silver and bronze medals for their education system, they jumped at the chance. In fact, despite the deeply rooted localness of American education, most people chose to give the gold to a state other than their own.

What’s particularly exciting is the number of “gold medal” states that have distinguished themselves by enacting the groundbreaking policies. In the Midwest, gold medal winner Minnesota has been a leader on public charter schools. In the Mountain states, Colorado has distinguished itself on its teacher quality laws. In New England, Massachusetts has long championed rigorous standards. In the South, Florida has led the way on accountability systems. One big take away from these results is the tremendous power of local role models to help lead the way for change.

But don’t take my word for it. Go on the roadtrip, explore the data yourself, and then share what you think with us on Twitter and Facebook. I found the geography of American public opinion on education pretty fascinating, and I can’t wait to find out if you do, too.

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