A new national poll shows nearly half of adults believe public education’s main goal should be academics, while others believe the main goal should be preparing students to be good citizens or to get jobs.
Forty-five percent said schools should focus on preparing students academically, while 26 percent said education should prepare students to be good citizens and 25 percent said education should prepare students for work, when asked to choose among those three options. Four percent had no opinion.
Only one-quarter of those surveyed gave American schools an overall A or B grade, but 48 percent rated their local schools as deserving As or Bs. The survey found half of parents feel extremely involved with their child’s school, 32 percent feel somewhat involved and the rest less so.
These results were released Monday as part of the 48th annual Phi Delta Kappa International “Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.” Although Gallup previously partnered to produce the poll, Langer Research Associates of New York produced this year’s poll for the association.
The survey included phone interviews with 1,221 adults from all 50 states in English last April and May. However, individual state results are not available.
Association pollsters began asking about public education in 1969, but questions vary each year. Since 2000, the top problem facing America’s public schools named by respondents was lack of money or financial support. This year, 19 percent listed lack of financial support in an open-ended question.
“This is a rich debate that’s been with us for over 15 straight years,” said Carl Cohn, executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a new public agency that advises schools and districts to help them meet accountability goals, during an embargoed panel discussion about the poll last week. Cohn was previously superintendent of the Long Beach and San Diego school districts.
He said results related to education funding, opting out of standardized tests, turning around failing schools, course offerings, and parent engagement stood out to him.
Fifty-three percent of those polled said they would support raising property taxes to improve schools. If taxes were raised, 34 percent said they’d want the additional revenue targeted toward teachers – with 18 percent favoring hiring more educators and 14 percent suggesting raises.
Cohn predicted these views would be a “huge morale boost to teachers.”
The poll showed 59 percent of those surveyed oppose allowing students to opt out of standardized testing, while 37 percent support this. Four percent had no opinion. Cohn said this was an interesting development that “probably bears more scrutiny.” In last year’s poll, 41 percent of those surveyed said parents should have the right to opt their children out.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, requires 95 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 and one year of high school to take annual standardized tests in math and English language arts. But in California and some other states, parents are allowed to opt their children out. However, California’s opt-out rates have been much lower than those in other parts of the country.
If a school is failing, 84 percent of those surveyed favored keeping it open, while 14 percent said the campuses should be closed. Calling this a “big finding,” Cohn said this “goes counter” to the trend toward shutting down failing schools, which has been prevalent for the last decade-and-a-half.
“I suspect parents are bringing some common sense,” he said. “If you’ve got a dicey neighborhood, just simply closing down might not be such a good idea. So, I think that’s something that bears additional scrutiny.”
Often, students whose schools are closed must travel long distances to reach other campuses, which has prompted opposition to school closure in many communities.
To improve schools, 68 percent of those polled supported more career-technical or skills-based classes, far exceeding the 21 percent who preferred more honors or advanced placement classes. Yet, California has prioritized access to Advanced Placement courses as a key component in its new school accountability system. Nine percent thought both were equally important and 2 percent had no opinion.
“I don’t know of a single urban superintendent who isn’t trying to bump up A.P. (Advanced Placement) participation,” Cohn said, adding that it’s difficult to measure the quality of career technical programs.
Cohn said it was important for school leaders to grasp the importance of keeping parents informed and inviting their participation and input. He pointed to the survey’s findings that “communication with parents leads to more positive feelings about schools.”