THE LIST: How Americans Rate Public Education
*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?
October 2, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
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