Opinion polling and the measurement of Americans' attitudes regarding education
Billingham, Chase M.
Kimelberg, Shelley McDonough
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Chase M. Billingham , Shelley McDonough Kimelberg. 2016. Opinion polling and the measurement of Americans’ attitudes regarding education. Journal of Education Policy, vol. 31:no. 5:pp 526-548
The meaning, measurement, and implications of 'public opinion' have long been a source of debate. In this paper, we examine the extent to which the educational priorities of elites in the US reflect the educational priorities of the American public. To do so, we focus on one particular segment of the education policy-making elite - education poll creators. Through a content analysis of questions asked between 1969 and 2013 in the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools, we examine the salience of key educational issues over time. We compare these trends to the proportion of poll respondents who label those issues the 'biggest problem' facing schools, thereby approximating two different conceptions of public opinion regarding education. We find that the issues that receive the most coverage by pollsters do not typically match the issues that respondents claim to be the biggest problems in schools. In light of the important role that opinion polls may play in shaping discussion and debate over educational issues, we argue that further study of the construction of public opinion is warranted.
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