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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 10/ 2/2009

THE LIST: How Americans Rate Public Education

By Valerie Strauss

*Sixty-four percent of Americans favor public charter schools--15 percent more than did five years ago. But many don’t understand what these schools actually are.

*Almost three out of four Americans favor merit pay for teachers--with student academic achievement, administrator evaluations and advanced degrees the three most favored criteria.

*Seven out of 10 Americans would like a child of theirs to teach in the public schools as a career--the highest such rating in three decades.

These are some of the findings in the 41st annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools. It was published in Kappan, the magazine of Phi Delta Kappa International, an organization for professional educators.

The results revealed some changes over time--and some confusion among Americans about basic issues in public education--including the nature of charter schools, which are publicly funded but permitted to operate outside the bureaucracy of the school system.

Earlier this week, The Answer Sheet wrote about a key finding of the poll--how Americans grade the country’s public schools:

*Fifty-one percent of respondents said they would give the public schools in their neighborhood a grade of A or B, but only 19% would give public schools in the nation A or B.

When asked about the school their oldest child attends, 74% said they would give the school an A or B, suggesting that those who have more information about local schools rate them more highly.

That showed that Americans clearly like the schools about which they have information but don’t like schools they don’t really know.

Here are more poll findings:

*Americans said that the biggest problem that public schools in their communities face is:
1) Lack of funding--32 percent in 20098, up from 17 percent in 2008.
2) Lack of discipline--10 percent in 2009 and 2008
3) Overcrowding--9 percent in 2009, up from 6 percent in 2008.

*Charter schools. In each of the following questions, the majority answer was incorrect.

a) When asked if charter schools were public:
--51 percent answered "false"
--45 percent answered "true"
--4 percent answered "don't know"
Charter schools are public.

b) When asked if charter schools could charge tuition:
--57 percent said "true"
--39 percent said "false"
--4 percent said "don't know"
Charter schools cannot charge tuition

c) When asked if charter schools could pick selects based on ability:
--71 percent said "true"
--25 percent said "false"
--4 percent said "don't know"

*Americans believe that beginning teachers should earn more than they do. Respondents estimated that beginning teachers in their community earned about $33,600 annually. They think the starting salary should be about $43,000. According to data collected by the American Federation of Teachers, the average beginning teacher salary in 2006-07 was $35,300.

*Eighty-one percent of Americans strongly endorse compulsory kindergarten.

*Almost 6 out of 10 Americans would be willing to pay more taxes to fund free preschool programs for families unable to pay.

*Fifty-one percent of Americans said public schools were moving on the wrong track, while 48 percent answered the right track.

(Note: The poll completed 1,003 interviews of people selected to be representative of U.S. adults nationwide. Of those, 61 percent had no children in school, 34 percent were public school parents, and 5 percent were nonpublic school parents. The explanation of how the poll was conducted said, "One can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points." The Answer Sheet is not quite sure what that means, but will assume that it means that the answers are more than generally reflective of adult American attitudes.)

Readers: Do any of these findings surprise you?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 2, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Tags:  American attitudes of public education  
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I don't think I was "surprised" by the survey results as I was troubled with the number of people, who while they talk about the importance of public education and how public schools should do this or that, they are really clueless as to the "business" of a public school education.

Charter Schools: If charter schools receive public funding but are not required to fulfill the same mandates and are considered more successful than public schools, why, then, aren't the mandates lifted from public schools? Since charter schools can pick and chose their students, but public schools can't, aren't we setting up public schools for failure by enforcing mandates on a student body that has been rejected by other educational institutions? Won't this lead to a form of "segregation"? Charter schools syphon money away from an already economically strapped public school system.

Merit Pay: Public schools are not like the private sector. If the private sector wants to reward employees, they raise prices, or reduce their profit margin. There is no profit margin in the public sector. In order to provide more or better services, or increase employee salary and benefits, public institutions have to raise taxes....a dirty word for the politicins who would make that decision. There is only one pot of money to spread out among the police, firefighters, roads, education, social services, etc...and it belongs to ELECTED officials. The competition for $$ continues to tighten as the economy declines and taxpayers keep shouting the "Don't Raise My Taxes" mantra.

Teacher Salaries: In my school district, a beginning teacher makes around $39,000 which isn't a bad salary for a college graduate. The problem, and many college students have figured this out, is that the salary after 30 years (retirement) is approximately $65,000...less than a $30,000 difference. Averages out to less than a thousand dollars a year, or less than $100 per month (10 month contract) over a 30 year career.

There are teachers in more than 10% of school districts in VA that retire after 30 years making less than $50,000 per year. In a majority of VA school division, teachers are not making more than $60,000 at retirement.

The cost of college has become so high that college graduates entering the job market with high debt consider other higher paying options. Teaching does not promise long-term financial stability. The teacher turnover is approximately 50% after 5 years.

We can't pay teachers a decent salary now, where are we going to get the money for "merit pay' raises? Whose pocket is going to be picked to provide those raises? The teacher in the next classroom?

Recommending Teaching as a Career: Most teachers I know try to discourage their children from becoming teachers. Sad.

Posted by: ilcn | October 2, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

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