Two polls on public schools reveal public divided on many issues

How would you rate public schools, your confidence in teachers, and reforms like Common Core Standards and chartered public schools? What are the best ways to deal with budget challenges? Those are among dozens of questions two recently released polls asked a national sample of Americans.

For more than 40 years, the national education fraternity “Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)” has surveyed Americans, in cooperation with Gallup Polls. PDK members generally are public school educators and college of education faculty. Fordham Foundation, generally viewed as a conservative group, also completed and released a national survey.

The headline of PDK’s press release is “A Nation Divided.” But PDK acknowledges vigorous disagreement in some areas, and strong agreement in others. For example:

• Almost half, 48 percent, report that when they were a student in school, they were bullied. Seventy-eight percent want schools to work on reducing bullying;

• Eighty-nine percent of people think closing the achievement gap is very important or somewhat important. Eighty-four percent believe the gap “can be narrowed substantially while maintaining high standards for all children”;

• 75 percent of those sampled say having common core standards “would provide more consistency in the quality of education” among various schools and states. However, only 50 percent say common core standards “would improve the quality of education” in their community, 40 percent say it would “have no effect” and 8 percent say it would decrease the quality of education;

• Seventy-one percent reported having “trust and confidence” in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools. That should encourage teachers, who in many cases bring creativity, insight and commitment to students;

• Forty-eight percent give local public schools an A or B, 44 percent would give local schools a C or D, and 4 percent “fail” local public schools.

• Nineteen percent give public schools nationally an “A or B,” 70 percent give public schools nationally a C or D, and 7 percent say “fail;”

• Sixty-six percent support the idea of charter public schools (down from 70 percent in 2011); and

• There’s no consensus about the biggest problem in public education. The most frequently cited problem was lack of financial support,” but only 35 percent cited that as the biggest problem. Sixty-two percent say they would be willing to pay more taxes “to improve the quality of the nation’s urban public schools.”

Fordham’s poll found somewhat different results. For example

• Seventy-three percent regard local public schools as “an asset to the community;”

• However, if the local district faced a “serious financial deficit,” 48 percent suggested that the district should “cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” 26 percent recommended changing as little as possible and wait for times to get better and only 11 percent voted for “rely on tax increases to close the deficit;” and

• The most frequently recommended budget-cutting strategy (69 percent) was to reduce the number of district level administrators.

The complete surveys are at www.pdkintl.org/poll/index.htm and www.edexcellence.net/publications/how-americans-would-slim-down-public-education.html.

I’ll write a future column about what I think the results mean. If you have reactions, please send them.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome via e-mail at: joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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