Americans’ Views on Education

What do Americans think about our current educational system?  PDK released its 48th annual poll of Americans’ views on education today.  The results show some differences between current policies and how Americans believe schools should operate.  Here are our favorite highlights:

  • Most illogical: 48% of respondents gave their local schools an “A” or “B” grade, but only 24% gave the same to the nation’s schools. (These discrepancies are pretty consistent over the last 20 years and are confirmed by EducationNext’s recent poll, which had a difference of 55% to 25%.)
  • Most hopeful: Parents with at least one child in a public school gave their local schools an A or B at a much higher rate than the general public. Parents who reported that they were satisfied with the school’s communication and were invited to see what was happening in the school were also much happier with their school’s overall performance.  School leaders should take note and invite parents (and the general public) to be more involved.
  • Most inconclusive: Americans are split on the purpose of education, which means that they are also split on what schools should be doing. Despite efforts under No Child Left Behind from 2002-2016 to bolster academic achievement, only 45% of respondents said that the main goal of public education was to prepare students academically.  26% said that the main goal was to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% said that public schools should prepare students for work.  Not surprisingly, given the current emphasis on academics, those who claimed that academic achievement was the main goal of public education were more likely to rate their local public schools more positively than those who thought schools should prepare students for work.  Conservatives were more likely than liberals to emphasize academics over citizenship.
  • Most dichotomous: Overwhelming majorities of Americans claimed that certain “soft goals” should be important for public schools: developing good work habits (90%), providing factual information (85%), enhancing critical thinking (82%), preparing students to be good citizens (82%), and preparing students to work well in groups (76%). However, less than 40% of respondents said that their local schools were doing well at meeting these goals.  Blacks were most likely to see citizenship as extremely important, while whites and Hispanics were most likely to view developing good work habits as extremely important.
  • Most likely to be quoted on social media: 56% of parents believe that their students are assigned the right amount of homework, with 23% claiming their students have too little homework and 20% saying there’s too much.
  • Most likely to make teachers happy: 53% of respondents support raising local property taxes to support their community’s public schools, compared to 45% who oppose the idea. Teachers would be the #1 priority for spending funds if taxes were raised, with 34%, followed by supplies and classes/extracurriculars, at 17% each.

Poll results do not assuage the debate between community control and government oversight.  Americans are split on the purpose of education, school funding, and quality of schools, which makes it difficult for policy makers to decide where to go next.  As poet John Lydgate said: “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  The question is, though: can we do what is best for our students and our society?

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