Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Back in February we launched the Education Roadtrip, a survey of 6,400 Americans across 8 regions that revealed 10 fascinating facts about our views on education and how they change from region to region.

Two weeks ago we launched a new blog series to dig even deeper into the data with an inaugural post on Common Core and a second post on school choice. Building upon the initial findings in the Roadtrip, in our third and final post we explore the survey results through a variety of demographic characteristics to bring to light how varied groups may hold very different views on the problems and solutions in education today.

To carry out this analysis we looked at 24 different groups across the dimensions of age, gender, race and educational background. We then compared their answers on questions of educational outlook, trust and policy reforms. Overall, we found a high level of agreement on most issues but also some striking differences.

Of the 24 possible combinations, we found that the two most divergent groups in terms of educational viewpoints were: 1) older (60+) college-educated white males and 2) younger (18-45) women of color who didn’t graduate from college. The fact that these two specific groups were the furthest apart on the survey makes understanding the dimensions of their differences particularly important since the former is the group that most often occupies positions of power in elected office, business and philanthropy and the latter is most often the group making decisions for children in areas most impacted by educational reforms.

Our big conclusion is that these community gaps are real but not always for the reasons you might think. Yes, it’s true that younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college are significantly more likely to support preschool for all (by 50 points) than older college-educated white males. But it’s also true that they are more likely to support providing parents with multiple school options by 22 points. And the biggest opinion gap is on an issue that hasn’t traditionally grabbed the headlines: a 53-point difference on whether to offer a longer school day and year.

Perhaps the most important gaps to reflect upon are found on the issue of trust, where younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college were much more likely to trust parents (by 38 points) and teachers unions (by 68 points) when it comes to improving our schools compared to the older college-educated white males who hold the reins of power in many communities.

Were these women empowered in more leadership roles, we might well see a very different approach to educational change: one with a greater emphasis on school choice and the expansion of preschool, with parents trusted above all others to lead these changes and an end to the anti-union rhetoric that dominates so many reform efforts.

Digging deeper into national data

Because the Roadtrip provides us with such a large sample (6,400 respondents), we can divide it by demographics in addition to geography to achieve new insights.

Below we explore the data for the two groups—older college-educated white males and younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college—across four dimensions: 1) the state of schools, 2) the value of education, 3) trust and 4) policy change.

The state of local schools. We were able to look at general viewpoints on schools both in terms of the importance of the issue of education and the need for change. We found younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college were more likely to say improving local schools would be “very helpful” (by 17 points) and say that local schools needed “a lot” of changes (by 8 points).

Value of education. We also looked at how the two groups answered the question “In addition to what is taught in the classroom, which of the following do you feel best describes the long-term value of education?” The results reveal striking differences between the groups with the largest difference (21 points) on the priority placed on “providing equal opportunities.” It was the most popular answer among younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college and the least popular answer among older college-educated white males. This suggests a values gap that should not be overlooked.

Trust. We also found significant differences on the question of how much different groups are trusted to “determine what is best for improving schools?” We looked at the answers in terms of net trust: the percentage saying they trusted a group minus the percentage saying they distrusted a group. Net trust among younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college was 38 points higher for parents and 68 points higher for unions than that for older college-educated white males.

Policy change. Finally, we looked at differences between the groups in terms of policy proposals actively under consideration in many communities. Looking at net support—percentage of supporters minus percentage of those not supporting a policy—we found overall positive support across all five policy proposals but significant variations in the level of support. Younger women of color who didn’t graduate from college were significantly more likely to support multiple school options (by 22 points) and preschool for all (by 50 points), while older college-educated white males were significantly more likely to support a longer school day and year (by 53 points), more freedom and accountability for principals (by 23 points) and the ability to make changes without bureaucratic red tape (by 23 points).

The intersection of gender, education and geography

We know that demographics matters when it comes to educational views but do these national patterns hold across the different regions in America?

To answer this question, we returned to the eight regions of the Roadtrip with a new focus on demographic groups within each region. While the sample size per region (800 respondents) did not allow us to look at differences across all of the variables used in the national sample, we were able to look at two of the most important dimensions: gender and education. What we found were significant variations both in the size of gaps between groups and in the policy priorities among the groups across different regions.

The region with the largest differences between the views of college-educated men and women who didn’t graduate from college is the National Capital region with an average gap of 19 points. The largest gap in the region is on the question of a longer school day and year.

The area with the second largest gap is New England with an average difference in net support of 16 points. In addition to the large gap on a longer school day and year, net support by non-college women is 18 points higher on providing multiple school options.

The third largest divide is found in the Midwest, with an average difference of 14 points. It’s also the only region where men who graduated college are more likely to support preschool than women who didn’t graduate college, with an eight point difference.

Voters in the Mountain States are in the middle of the pack, with an average difference of 13 points. This divide is tempered in part by the fact that both groups supported a longer school day at equal levels.

Voters in the South also have a 13 point divide between the groups, with similar support found across major policies like school options, ending red tape and greater freedom and accountability for principals.

The contours in the West are similar to the above regions, but with lower than average support for preschool by non-college women and greater than average support for a longer school day and year.

In the Border States the gap is also on average 13 points, with greater support among non-college women for freedom and accountability and less support among college graduate men for a longer school day and year.

Mid-Atlantic voters have the smallest gap between the groups at just eight points. Near identical support is found for multiple school options, freedom and accountability for principals, and ending red tape.

Demographics, Geography and Community

Our big takeaway from this third and final visit to the Roadtrip survey data is that we need to take community differences much more seriously if we hope to make sustained progress towards the goal of a high-quality education for all kids, regardless of address. But while we can’t take agreement for granted, there are core policy goals that enjoy broad support—multiple school options, expanded preschool, freedom and accountability for principals, and ending red tape—that most people can get behind if we do so in a more inclusive way and never lose sight of putting parents first in the plans to transform our schools.

I hope you found this final deep dive informative. Share your thoughts in the comments below and join the debate on twitter with the hashtag #50CANEdRoadTrip.

Methodological Notes

6,400 interviews among a random sample of registered voters were conducted from May 29 to June 16, 2013 by online survey. 800 interviews were conducted in each of the eight regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, National Capital, South, Midwest, Mountain States, Border States, and West) and the results were weighted to ensure proportional responses. The complete survey methodology and list of each of the states in each region can be found here and the complete national survey results can be found here.

The following are the margins of error at 95 percent confidence by crosstab for the national results: under 45 non-college women of color (± 5.74) and 60+ college grad white men (± 5.45).

The following are the ranges of the margins of error at 95 percent confidence by crosstab for the regional results: non-college women (± 6.04 to ±6.78) and college grad men (± 6.75 to ±8.06).


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