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The 74’s Romy Drucker Sees Millennial Hope for Market-Driven Ed Reform. I See Pro-Reform Vapor.

May 21, 2018

In January 2018, The 74 co-founder, Romy Drucker, published an opinion piece about a survey conducted in the summer of 2017 by Echelon Insights and regarding millennials’ views on education. The survey was funded by two organizations: the Walton Foundation and the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

The actual survey questions have not been published, only this 27-page report highlighting given results. Below is some technical info on the survey itself, as provided at the end of the report:

Echelon Insights, on behalf of the Walton Family Foundation and the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, conducted an opinion research study on millennial adults in the US during the spring and summer of 2017.

During May and June 2017, Echelon Insights conducted a series of six focus groups in the following cities:

  • Alexandria, VA (Millennial public school teachers and millennial former public school students)
  • Atlanta, GA (Millennial mothers and millennial former public school students)
  • Denver, CO (Millennial fathers and millennial public school teachers)

These focus groups were followed by a survey of 800 adults aged 18-35 across the United States, conducted June 21-July 5, 2017 via YouGov web panel (margin of error of +/- 4.9%). The survey included an additional oversample to total 300 interviews with K-12 teachers aged 18-35 (margin of error of +/- 7.1%).

The survey had three groups of interest: 1) millennials in general; 2) millennial parents, and 3) millennial teachers, as noted in the intro of the report:

Echelon Insights, supported by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP) and the Walton Family Foundation, conducted a study of Americans 18-35, with an additional deep dive into the views of both millennial parents and millennial teachers. During the summer of 2017, Echelon conducted a series of focus groups and a national survey to assess how millennials feel the public education system is doing and what they would do to improve it. The findings paint a picture of a generation open to re-thinking many, but not all, aspects of how we run our nation’s public schools.

Open to re-thinking many, but not all, aspects of how we run our nation’s public schools.

Many but not all.


Drucker believes that the survey results indicate that millennials show promise for bolstering the corporate-ed-reformer corner in which she operates. A smidge from her op-ed:

There’s a hopefulness underlying the poll numbers though, glimmers that millennials can finally be the ones to reckon with our inequitable education system because we know it is stifling the American dream.

That is why I do this work: because as our godfather Joel Klein famously says, we won’t fix poverty in this country until we fix education. (We may be young guns, but we always respect our cherished elders.) The notion that many of my peers may fundamentally understand that is not only reassuring, it’s reinvigorating for our mission. …

Reformers tend to spend a lot of time fighting battles, but this is my war — inspiring millennials to see this issue like I do, as one that has practical, scalable, data-driven solutions that can allow us to retake our future. All we need is courage and a political will to implement them. Of course, I’m optimistic that millennials can get there. Any other way of thinking would be, well, old school.

The thing about us millennials, though, is that we like to defy labels. So don’t call us the Education Generation yet, though there is hope that we may be.

It might not be so easy, however, to corral those millennials into *seeing the issue as Drucker does.* Drucker notes as much:

But there is much more work to do. Although millennials may be attuned at a high level to the fundamental inequalities of ZIP code–based enrollment systems, their initial ideas about school choice, like those of most Americans, are murky: 14 percent say they’re “very familiar” with the concept, and a third report being “somewhat familiar.”

Millennial feelings about school choice, particularly public charter schools, jump from 22 percent positive to around 40 percent positive when they’re given this additional language: “ ‘School choice’ means that a student can choose to attend a different school than the one for which they are zoned. Instead of being assigned a school based on one’s neighborhood, students would be able to apply to attend a different school in the district.”

Given the margin of error (+4.9%), a “jump to around 40 percent positive” for school choice could be 44.9 percent– or 35.1 percent.

I prefer reading the actual survey questions and including a link to the actual survey document as opposed to relying upon a report about the survey. Still, this report includes some interesting info that might furrow the market-idolizing, billionaire eyebrows of its Walton funders. For example, millennials are chiefly unfamiliar with school choice:

The reality is that very few millennials are very familiar with the concept of “school choice”– only fourteen percent in our survey research said as much. Another third report being “somewhat familiar,” but the majority of millennials say they are unfamiliar with the concept. As a result, many do not have an opinion on whether “school choice” is positive or negative; 27 percent say school choice is “positive” while ten percent say it is “negative”; most hold a neutral view or say they have simply not heard enough about it.

Now, this sounds like once respondents know what school choice is, they’re in. But not quite the way the Waltons would like:

We asked millennials “under what circumstances, if any, should a student be able to attend a different school than the one for which they are zoned or assigned based on their address Nearly half (49 percent) say that students should be able to attend a different school “if their parent thinks another school is better for them for any reason,” while only twelve percent say there is no circumstance that warrants allowing choice. …

There is less agreement over what type of school a student should be able to attend “while being able to take some of that state or local funding to their new school.” Nearly half (49 percent) support letting the funding follow the student to another traditional public school, and 38 percent support this for public non-profit charter schools. However, only 28 percent believe the funding should be able to go to a private, non-religious school, and only 17 percent think funding should be able to go to a religiously-affiliated school.

Below is an example in which viewing actual survey items would be helpful:

If teachers are what make a school thrive, then what causes a school to be struggling or failing? Here, millennials again point to teaching as an essential factor, with some 46 percent of millennials say that “ineffective teaching” is one of the most important factors in what causes a school to struggle, followed closely by “inadequate school funding” (41 percent).

I wonder if respondents were allowed to connect the two ideas. In other words, do millennials believe inadequate funding to be a catalyst to “ineffective” teaching (e.g., insufficient class materials impacting the quality of a student’s learning experience)? And how does one operationalize “ineffective”? (If I am asked to teach 40 students at once, as a teacher, I will be ineffective. If I have numerous disruptions to my class schedule, or if the administration does not follow through on district discipline policies, I will be ineffective.)

Participants were asked a loaded, dichotomous question: “Big changes,” or more funding?

Guess which one won?

Millennials get that education is key to opportunity, and also know that not every student has a chance to access a quality education. So what should be done about it? Is the problem that schools today need big changes, or is the problem mostly that schools are underfunded? While school funding rises to second-place on the list of factors that cause a school to struggle, we wanted to put this idea to the test in a heads-up question: do schools need big change, or do they just need more funding?

On this question, the result was overwhelming: millennials think “schools today need big changes in order to create opportunity for students,” with 74 percent choosing that statement over the assertion that “schools today don’t need big changes, they just need more funding” (26 percent). Millennials who felt their own education

was only “fair” or “poor” are even more emphatic, with 80 percent saying schools today “need big changes.” This finding cut across race, gender, and political ideology.

The apparent follow-up is “how big”?

Well, *way big* is the order of the day– with no inkling of what “big” actually means:

Of course, there is more than one way to pose this question. We also offered respondents a contrast that pitted the upsides and downsides of big change against one another. Do millennials worry more that we will make change and it will be “too radical, and throw out the things that are working best in schools today” or that we will instead not make significant enough change?

Most – 58 percent – worry more that “we won’t make significant enough changes in our schools, and the problems in schools today will keep getting worse.”

Concerning the worn-out “college and career readiness”: This survey turns it into college or career readiness– with no clear consensus:

When asked what schools ought to be doing for students, there is not a clear consensus. Should high schools focus on preparing students for future academic pursuits, or should they focus on real-world lessons and career training?

Millennials are divided on this issue. Only half of millennials say that students “should be prepared to navigate adult life and real-world challenges” upon leaving high school, and a similarly slim majority say students “should be prepared to succeed in college or post-secondary courses.”

On the question of whether high school should prepare students for college, attitudes vary widely depending on the education level of the respondent; millennials with college degrees (62 percent) or graduate degrees (81 percent) are much more likely to think high school should prepare students for college, while only 37 percent of those who did not pursue college felt the same.

As for who can teach, some interesting (though incomplete) connections apparently in the minds of respondents:

Who should be able to be a teacher, then? When asked about opening up the teaching profession to those without an education degree, six-in-ten millennials think that it should be possible for someone with “real-world experience” but no education degree to become a teacher “because we need people from career fields like science and engineering to be able to educate students,” while 40 percent say it should not be possible to become a teacher without an education degree.

It seems that respondents assume that those with alternative degrees already possess “real world experience” prior to hitting the classroom– and that those individuals would automatically be teaching courses aligned with their non-education degrees.

It does not appear that respondents were asked whether one should be allowed to teach if one 1) has no teaching degree, 2) has no “real world” experience in his/her degree, 3)is assigned to teach a subject that is not aligned with his/her degree, and 4) only plans to remain in the classroom for two years.

In other words, respondents were not asked about Teach for America (TFA) reality.

As for merit pay: Respondents overwhelmingly say no:

But while there is an openness to change in how we define who can become a teacher, there is resistance among millennials to changes in how teachers are evaluated and compensated. We presented respondents with a debate over “pay-for-performance” in teaching, asking them to choose which statement they agree with more: that teachers should be paid “in part based on how much their students learn each year, since this is what matters most” or if “credentials and experience” should be the determining factor because “it is too difficult and unfair to judge them on other factors.” By a nearly two-to-one margin, our respondents say to stick with credentials and experience as the primary determining factor in teacher pay.

Interestingly, once respondents were provided with an idealized definition of charter school and how charter schools are supposed to work (absent any hint of potential system-gaming or corruption that comes with being quasi-private-public), they thought that merit pay, college readiness (as opposed to college or career readiness) and teachers with backgrounds in other fields (presumption of certification still might be there; not sure) were fine for charter schools.

First, the prelude of ignorance, then the definition:

In much the same way that few millennials have familiarity with or a strong opinion on school choice, few are very familiar with public charter schools.

Only 43 percent say they are at least “somewhat familiar” with public charters, and only 14 say they are “very familiar.” Before being given a definition, 22 percent of millennials say they have a positive view of public charter schools, and 14 percent hold a negative view, with the rest saying they are neutral or simply do not know enough. …

As we did with “school choice,” we then provided survey respondents with a basic description of public charter schools, describing them in this way:

“Charter schools are public schools that are able to operate under a different set of guidelines than the traditional schools. However, they have to be tuition-free, open to all students, and not have special entrance requirements. In exchange for having flexibility to do some things differently than the traditional schools, they are periodically required to demonstrate that they are doing a good job educating students, and lose their ‘charter’ if they are not performing adequately.”

And now, the result:

Recall that millennials are broadly opposed to “pay-for-performance” as a way of evaluating and compensating teachers; nonetheless, 75 percent think it would be a “good thing” to let charters “pay teachers according to their job performance,” while only 25 percent think this would be a bad thing. A whopping 84 percent think it would be a good thing if charters “hire more teachers who have backgrounds in professions besides teaching,” and the same number believe it would be a good thing to “teach a more challenging curriculum” compared to the traditional public schools. Two-thirds think it is a good thing for charters to be able to “establish a stricter or ‘zero-tolerance’ discipline code.”

And while millennials may be divided over whether public schools should focus on making students college-ready upon graduation, they are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea that it is good for a charter school to be able to have that kind of a focus; 83 percent think that it is a good thing for a charter to be able to “establish a culture that expects all students should be college ready.”

Many having just learned a definition of charter school, charters are now a hit:

Before being given a definition, 22 percent of millennials say they have a positive view of public charter schools, and 14 percent hold a negative view, with the rest saying they are neutral or simply do not know enough. …

As we did with school choice, we presented respondents with a debate over charter schools. Some 63 percent of millennials side with “those who support public charter schools [who] say that traditional public schools are often stuck in an outdated model, and that charter schools can be more creative and effective in how they teach students, leading to more opportunity, especially for kids who would otherwise have to attend a poorly-performing traditional public school,” while 37 percent instead side with “those who oppose public charter schools [who] say that they take resources away from traditional public schools and are only accessible to kids whose parents take the initiative to put them into the lotteries to get in, and that rather than having more charters we should invest more in traditional public schools.”

This instant support makes a great school choice sound byte. Of course, the problem with instant support is that it lacks roots. Pro-market vapor– not the makings of the solid, pro-charter support the Waltons hoped to have (but didn’t) for Massachusetts’ November 2016, failed charter-cap-raising ballot initiative, Question 2.

And what does the public do when it hears of market-driven ed reform that it doesn’t understand?

The public turns to its teachers for their thoughts on the matter– an element of undoing for Walton-funded efforts to expand charter schools in Massachusetts.

Let us consider the teachers.

The Echelon Insights report includes a section on “the millennial parent”; for the sake of space, I will proceed directly to the last section, “the millennial teacher.” Some highlights:

Even more than non-teachers, they feel their own education was a good one, and they have an even more negative view of the education the average student receives today, with two-thirds of millennial teachers saying students get a “fair” or “poor” education these days. And teachers have higher expectations for what our schools should be doing for kids; while only half of millennials overall think that students should be college-ready upon leaving high school, that climbs to nearly eight-in-ten millennial teachers.

Teachers – like parents – view their own role in schools as a critical one. For teachers, it is positive culture inside a school (56 percent) and teacher creativity and flexibility (52 percent) that most signify a thriving school, and nearly half say that it is “ineffective teaching” that plays a role in a failing school. (This factor is second only to inadequate funding, the top choice for millennial teachers for why some schools struggle.)

Teachers are also open to the idea of big change in the abstract, with 69 percent saying they think schools need big changes in how they function, while only 31 percent say schools mostly need more funding. A majority (56 percent) are more worried that we will be too timid in reforming schools, rather than being too radical (44 percent). …

…While millennials overall lean against supporting “pay-for-performance” measures, millennial teachers feel that way much more strongly, with 88 percent saying that it should be credentials and experience, rather than what their students learn, that should determine their pay. Even when asked about their own compensation, 77 percent of millennial teachers would prefer to be paid via a system of “steps” based on degrees and years in the classroom, while only 14 percent would prefer to be paid based on their evaluations and their students’ progress.

This is not to say they oppose all new approaches to compensation; two-thirds (65 percent) would prefer to receive portable retirement benefits via a 401(k) or other form of retirement account, while only one-in-five would prefer a traditional pension that vests after a decade of service.

And unions. The Waltons will not be keen on millennial teachers; views of unions. Specifically, in these survey results, there is no great element of dislike or mistrust of unions– nor do the respondents view unions as holding undue influence:

Millennial teachers are also fairly positive about teacher unions. In our focus groups, most teachers knew little about what their union did for them besides provide legal support should they ever face accusations or disciplinary action. In the survey, a plurality of teachers (48 percent) say they are positive about teachers’ unions, with another 45 percent saying they are either neutral or have not heard enough about them. Roughly half of our millennial teachers reported being dues-paying union members, and of those, 69 percent had a positive view of teacher’s unions, though only 7 percent felt that teachers like themselves had “a lot” of influence over the policies and priorities supported by the union. (In total, just over half felt that they had at least a fair amount of influence over union policies and priorities.)

I would have liked to see the actual item resulting in the 69 percent “positive view” of union membership by dues-paying union members.

Even the 31 percent who are not in the “positive view” category still pay dues to belong to the union.

Moreover, reading between the lines, even roughly one-third of those who chose not to join the union believed the union benefited them:

Some 87 percent of dues-paying union member teachers said they felt they benefited from union membership. In contrast, among the half of teachers who did not pay dues to a union, 63 percent said the union in their state or district did not benefit them.

Regarding Massachusetts’ failed Q2, Walton-paid consultants advised the Waltons to appease unions on future ballot initiatives by including funding for traditional public schools.

Unpalatable advice for a Walton, perhaps, but coming back to them in the form of this Echelon Insights report:

While teachers are much more familiar with the concept of school choice, their views toward school choice start off negative, with only 19 percent of millennial teachers initially holding a positive view of choice, a view that improves by 20 points once choice is defined. Furthermore, teachers are even more likely than millennials overall to think student should be able to choose a different school if they have special needs and talents, or if their zoned school does not offer programs such as Advanced Placement. A healthy majority (58 percent) of millennial teachers are supportive of funding “following a student” provided that student continues to attend a different traditional public school. However, when presented with two debates over school choice where millennials overall tend to side with supporters of school choice, millennials take the opposite view, with millennial teachers leaning toward the opposition on keeping “public money in public schools, and with 63 percent saying that failing schools do not need the threat of school choice but rather need more support and help in order to become better.

In Romy Drucker’s pro-market “war,” millennial teachers’ support for charter schools (once defined) is, well, the flip of a coin:

Charters divide millennial teachers, with a slim majority (55 percent) of millennial teachers tend to side with arguments from opponents of charter schools who criticize them for taking resources away from traditional public schools, compared to 45 percent who agree with supporters of charters who argue that they offer “more opportunity” for many kids who need it.

But the fact that millennial teachers had to be offered a definition of charter school in order to shift in a positive direction (with most stuck in some undisclosed middle) betrays more pro-charter vapor:

On public charters, millennial teachers similarly begin with a slightly negative view (33 percent negative, 22 percent positive), and move to a positive view once public charter schools are defined (27 percent negative, 34 percent positive).

So. Do the Waltons, and Drucker, and even “godfather Joel Klein” have the makings of a millennial “hope” for corporate ed reform?

According to the Echelon Insights report, the millennial buy-in just isn’t there.

Pro-market vapor. Nothing more.

money vapor


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

One Comment
  1. This is not opinion research; it’s opinion production. No legitimate survey research group would publish findings and not release the survey questions and the order in which they were asked.

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