What Americans really think about public schools
Though it has become something of a sport to bash public education, a new poll shows that most Americans actually think highly of their neighborhood public schools and have trust in teachers.
The Obama administration’s education agenda gets mixed reviews in the 2010 poll by the Gallup organization and Phi Delta Kappa, a global association of education professionals. The PDK/Gallup poll has been conducted with Gallup annually since 1969.
Here are highlights of the poll, published by Kappan Magazine and available here:
* Americans believe the most important national education program should be improving the quality of teaching. Developing demanding standards, creating better tests, and improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools were rated significantly lower.
* Seventy-one percent of Americans say they have trust and confidence in teachers, with a greater percentage (78 percent) of public school parents registering confidence. Two out of three Americans would support their child’s decision to teach in the public schools for a career.
*Overwhelmingly, Americans favor keeping a poorly performing school in their community open with existing teachers and principals, while providing comprehensive outside support. This finding is consistent across political affiliation, age, level of education, region of the country, and other demographics. The Obama administration’s policy requires districts to close or change the staff of failing schools.
*Whether it’s paying the bills, setting standards, deciding what should be taught, or holding schools accountable, Americans believe state government is the responsible agency for public education in the United States. Conversely, four of five Americans believe the federal government should not have a role in holding schools accountable.
*Grades assigned to President Obama for his performance in support of public schools are down 11 percent since last year, and they’re down whether the respondent was a Democrat, Republican, or an independent. Only 34 percent would give him an A or B letter grade with regard to his performance in support of public schools—down from 45 percent last year.
*Support for charter schools is growing. Sixty-eight percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of charter schools, and almost two out of three Americans would support a new public charter school in their communities. Sixty percent of Americans say they would support a large increase in the number of public charter schools operating in the United States. The Obama administration supports the expansion of charter schools.
*Thirty-six percent of Americans say school funding tops the list of the biggest problems facing the schools in their community, followed by lack of discipline and overcrowded schools. School funding has been identified as the biggest problem throughout this decade; this year alone, the number of respondents who cited it increased 4 percentage points over last year’s findings. Public school parents consider funding an even bigger problem — 46 percent of them selected it as the No. 1 challenge facing their schools. For the first time, government interference moved toward the top of the biggest-problem list, jumping from 15th last year to a surprising fifth place.
*The grades Americans assign to the schools in their community have remained relatively stable over the past 35 years, trending slightly upward. This year, almost half of Americans give the schools in their community either an “A” or “B.” Similarly, the grades Americans assign to the nation’s schools, monitored for the past 25 years, have remained relatively stable. However, they are trending downward. This year, only 18 percent of Americans give the nation’s schools as a whole either an “A” or “B.”
*Americans support a revised approach to paying teachers, with almost three out of four Americans believing that quality of work should determine salary, rather than using a standard scale. Almost three out of four Americans believe teacher pay should be very closely or somewhat closely tied to student academic achievement, and more than two out of three Americans support paying teachers higher salaries as an incentive to teach in schools identified as needing improvement.
* Three out of four Americans oppose the idea of paying students money to read books, attend school, or strive for better grades. Consistent with this finding, only one in four parents said they paid their children to do better in school.
* Americans overwhelmingly agree that a college education is necessary for today’s students. Ninety-two percent of parents believe their children will go to college, which will provide more job opportunities and better income. And despite the current recession, three out of four parents believe they are very or somewhat likely to be able to pay for their child’s college education.
* Teachers need more time to learn. Of the two-thirds of Americans who believe increasing student or teacher learning time would increase student learning, more believe that having teachers spend more time learning new ways to teach would have a greater effect on student learning than having students spend more time in school.
Of the 1,008 adults polled for this survey, 67 percent have no children in school, while 28 percent have children in public schools. Five 5 percent were nonpublic school parents.
The obtained sample was weighted to be representative of U.S. adults nationwide. For findings based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points and, in the case of public school parents, 5 percentage points. It should be noted that in addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
Political affiliations were: Republican 32 percent; Democrat 29 percent; Independent 35 percent; Undesignated 4 percent.
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| September 20, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Research, School turnarounds/reform, Teachers | Tags: content standards, failing schools, gallup poll, kappan magazine, obama and education, obama and school reform, pdk poll, phi delta kappa, public schools, school funding, standardized tests, teacher quality, teachers and pay, teachers and respect, what americans think about education
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