New PDK/Gallup poll highlights public perception of public education

The annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools was released last week, and while the results are heartening on some fronts, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Here are some of the most interesting findings from the poll:

Funding: This year, as has been the case for the past few years, Americans cite a lack of financial support as the biggest challenge facing public schools in their own communities. While 35% of respondents nationally listed it as the most pressing issue, almost half (43%) of parents with children in public schools cited lack of funding as the biggest challenge. The next most common responses were lack of discipline and overcrowded schools – with both being cited by less than 10% of both national respondents and public school parents. For information on schools’ budget challenges, see the Center’s report Cutting to the Bone.

Urban Schools: 97% of Americans believe that it’s very or somewhat important to improve public education in urban areas, and almost two-thirds would be willing to pay more taxes to improve urban schools. However, there’s a clear political distinction on that question, with 80% of Democrats willing to pay more taxes, but only 41% of Republicans in favor of it.

Work and College Readiness: Americans largely agree that high school dropouts are not prepared to enter the workforce, with 65% saying they strongly disagree that today’s high school dropout is ready for the world of work. Unfortunately, only 8% strongly agree that high school graduates are ready for college, with most respondents (43%) being  in the middle of strongly agreeing and strongly disagreeing on the issue. We have a wealth of resources on preparing college and career ready graduates including how to prevent kids from dropping out in our high school toolkit.

Evaluating Teachers: There’s no consensus among respondents on the best way to evaluate teachers. 52% favor requiring that teacher evaluations include their student’s test scores, while 47% oppose it. Further, among those that favor it, 48% say student test scores should count for one to two-thirds of an evaluation outcome. Despite disagreements on evaluations, 70% of parents say they have trust and confidence in their children’s teachers. See our reports on teacher evaluation and more in our teacher quality toolkit.

Vouchers and Charter Schools: The biggest shift in opinion compared to previous years has been on the issues of charter schools and vouchers, although in different directions. The support for charter schools had been steadily rising for a decade, and reached a peak in 2011 with 70% of Americans in favor of them. This year, however, the number dropped to 66% in favor. Additionally, in 2011, only 34% of Americans supported vouchers for private schools. This year that number jumped to 44%.  Learn more about the impact of charter schools and their virtual cousins.

Grading Schools: Nationally, only 19% of respondents graded American public schools an A or a B. However, public school parents have a more varied opinion, with 48% of them giving the schools in their own community an A or a B, with another 48% of them grading their own schools a C, D or F. Additionally, when asked to rate the school that their oldest child attends, 77% of parents graded it an A or a B.

When looking at these results as a whole, we can see that Americans want public education to work. They’re largely in favor of giving public schools more funding, and have high opinions of the schools and teachers that they are most familiar with. Americans, however, are also big fans of being able to choose how to educate their children, and until they sense progress, it’s possible that the voucher movement will continue to gain traction. — Ashwini Yelamanchili

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