Home > Uncategorized > A Poll that Will Make Reformers, GOP Cringe Shows Americans LIKE Their Public Schools but Want More Social Services, Less Academics in Schools

A Poll that Will Make Reformers, GOP Cringe Shows Americans LIKE Their Public Schools but Want More Social Services, Less Academics in Schools

In a story that warmed my heart, Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss summarized the results of the annual Phi Delta Kappa poll in hr opening paragraphs as follows:

Most American adults are weary of the intense focus on academics in public schools today, according to a new national survey, and want students to get more vocational and career training as well as mental, physical and dental services on campus. Even so, a majority of public school parents give higher grades — A’s and B’s — to the traditional public schools in their neighborhoods than they have in years.

A majority of Americans polled also said they oppose programs that use public money for private and religious school education, policies that are supported by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And a majority said they do not think that standardized test scores  — which have been used for more than a dozen years as the most important factor in evaluating schools — are a valid reflection of school quality.

The Phi Delta Kappa poll is seen as the gold standard among administrators and school board members, and these findings should unsettle “Reformers” in both political parties who want schools to run like a business and have their “bottom line” determined by standardized test scores. And President Trump’s notion that the public wants vouchers is also now open to question. Not only does the American public support public education in general, they have the strongest support ever for their local public school!

The new poll finds that the proportion of Americans who give their community’s public schools an A grade is at its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling. In the newest survey, 62 percent of public school parents gave public schools in their own communities an A or B grade, compared with 45 percent of nonparents. Grades go higher when parents are grading their own school — 71 percent gave them A’s or B’s.

These findings are consistent with surveys where many people give low grades to “Congress” but high grades to their local legislator. But in the recent survey, even generic public schools are rated better than ever:

The report said that 24 percent of Americans give public schools na­tionally an A or B (with no difference between parents and all adults), and it noted:

There’s no contradiction in the gap. Awareness of a few poor schools can diminish the ratings of all schools together, driving down scores nationally while leaving local scores far better.

All of this relatively good news notwithstanding, there are some results of this survey that could be cherry-picked by “reformers” and voucher advocates.

Still there was this: If cost and location were not issues, just one-third of parents say they’d pick a traditional public school over a private school (31 percent), public charter school (17 percent), or a religious school (14 percent). Fifty-four percent said they would stick with a public school if they were offered public funds to send their child to a private or religious school — but only if they received full tuition. If they received only half of tuition for private or religious school, 72 percent of parents said they would stick with a traditional public school.

Even though cost and location are clearly issues in the minds of parents, I hereby predict that some voucher advocates will use the finding that only one third of the parents would choose “…a traditional public school over a private school” as proof that the public wants vouchers, overlooking the fact that such a switch would only be supported  if they received full tuition… and NO legislation I’ve read of comes close to providing full tuition for the kind of leafy private schools parent might be envisioning as an alternative let alone a public charter or parochial school.

The article provides a list of other findings that contradict the “conventional wisdom” of reformers, such as:

  • Strong support for wraparound services such as  after-school activities (92%); mental health services (87%); general health services (79%); and dental services (65%).
  • Job or career skills classes even if that means… less time in academic classes (82%)
  • Certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment in a given field (86%)
  • The need for “…schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others and persistent at solving problems.” (82%)

And as for accountability measures, the public is developing a deep antipathy for standardized tests. The survey indicated that “…only 42 percent said performance on standardized tests is a highly important indicator of school quality; 13 percent said test scores are extremely important.” What was important? 39% felt that “…developing students’ interpersonal skills” was very important and 37% felt that “…offering technology and engineering instruction” was crucial.

One contentious area, integration, had mixed results. The survey found that 55% said “having a mix of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds in public schools is extremely or very important”. The demographic breakdown: blacks, 72 percent; Hispanics, 57 percent; whites, 48 percent. Democrats cited this as important nearly twice as often as Republicans.

Looking at these findings is heartening. Despite 30+ years of hearing that public education is failing and having a President and Secretary of Education who repeatedly describe public schools as a “dead end”, the public— especially parents— have a different experience. Here’s hoping these facts will find their way into the consciousness of the electorate!

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