Advancing a Free Society

Meeting of the Minds

Thursday, August 26, 2010

By William Howell, Paul E. Peterson, and Martin West

Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., are more polarized today than they have been in nearly a century. And among the general public, party identification remains the single most powerful predictor of people’s opinions about a wide range of policy issues. Given this environment, reaching consensus on almost any issue of consequence would appear difficult. And when it comes to education policy, which does a particularly good job of stirring people’s passions, opportunities for advancing meaningful policy reform would appear entirely fleeting.

Against this backdrop, the results of the 2010 Education Next–Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) Survey are encouraging. With the exceptions of school spending and teacher tenure, the divisions between ordinary Democrats and Republicans on education policy matters are quite minor. To be sure, disagreements among Americans continue to linger. Indeed, with the exception of student and school accountability measures, Americans as a whole do not stand steadfastly behind any single reform proposal. Yet the most salient divisions appear to be within, not between, the political parties. And we find growing support for several strategies put forward in recent years by leaders of both political parties—most notably online education and merit pay.

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