Theses Doctoral

Public Opinion and the Public Schools: Three Essays on Americans' Education Policy Preferences

Houston, David M.

Learning About Schooling: The Effects of State Level Student Achievement Data on Public Opinion
There is a growing literature on the effects of student achievement data on public opinion. Prior research suggests that individuals tend to overestimate student achievement in their area. The provision of current achievement levels tends to cause a decrease in confidence in the public schools. In some cases, it appears to increase support for various education reforms. However, previous experimental studies measured outcomes immediately after the provision of information about education performance, making it difficult to distinguish between long-lasting information effects and the more ephemeral consequences of priming. As a result, we do not know how large these effects truly are nor how long they last. I address these concerns by conducting a survey experiment in which I provide state level student achievement data to a randomly assigned treatment group and then measure political attitudes on education issues at three separate times: immediately, after one day, and after ten days. There is evidence that the provision of state level student achievement data temporarily reduces individuals’ confidence in their state school systems, but this effect does not persist after ten days.
Schoolhouse Democracy: Education Policy Responsiveness in the States
The link between public opinion and enacted public policy is referred to as policy responsiveness in the political science literature. Using new estimates of state level public opinion, I explore the relationship between support for increased education spending and average per pupil expenditures at the state level from 1984 to 2013. Within a given year, I find a modest, positive relationship between statewide public opinion on education spending and statewide per pupil expenditures. On average, states with greater support for education spending also tend to spend more per pupil. Within states over time, an increase in support for greater education spending is also associated with an increase in actual spending. However, after controlling for both between-state differences and common trends across states over time, I observe a negative relationship between public opinion and education spending levels. In circumstances in which spending levels are low relative to the state average and low relative to the year average, support for increased education spending tends to be high for that state and year. Additionally, education spending responsiveness tends to be worse in states with weak or non-existent teachers unions.
Polarization and the Politics of Education: What Moves Partisan Opinion?
This study explores the conditions under which partisan polarization and de-polarization occur with respect to public opinion on education issues. To guide this investigation, I pose three general questions. First, does the provision of policy-relevant information cause partisans to converge on the same position? Second, can signals from political elites with ideologically moderate views move partisans closer together? And third, does direct experience with public schools reduce the political abstraction with which one evaluates education policies? I repurpose and extend 17 existing survey experiments to help answer the first two questions, and I conduct a non-experimental data analysis to investigate the third. I find consistent evidence that the provision of education spending information has de-polarizing consequences, but the effects of ideologically moderate elite signals on polarization vary by year. I also find tentative evidence in favor of a link between direct experience with public schools and reduced polarization on education issues.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 16, 2018