The Data Is In! What Americans Think of Public Schools, Testing, and Teacher Evaluations

A new Gallup poll suggests that the nation is divided on many education issues, but in agreement on others such as bully prevention.
A new Gallup poll shows how divided Americans are on education issues such as whether standardized testing should be used to evaluate teachers. (Photo: Getty Images/Washington Post)
Aug 24, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Americans are as split on education as they are on other political issues like immigration and health care, according to the annual Phi Delta Kappa International-Gallup poll.

The poll measures the national pulse on myriad topics, including confidence in teachers, bullying, and common core standards. More importantly, the poll shows “the growing disparity between Americans’ negative perceptions of the nation’s schools as a whole…versus their positive perceptions of their local schools.”

Americans have a negative opinion of the country’s schools, yet praise the schools in their own backyards. In fact, 37 percent of parents gave their child’s school an A grade—that’s an all-time high in the poll that began in 1984. Only 1 percent of parents gave their child’s school a failing grade.

More: Mississippi Is Often Ranked Last in Education. Will the Governor's Plan for Radical Change Work?

In turn, only one percent gave the nation’s schools an A. The disparity is shocking but not surprising, according to the poll.

“Respondents stated that knowledge about the local schools (43%) and pride in their community (17%) influenced Americans’ grades,” according to the Gallup press release. “Some (6%) said Americans assigned low grades for the nation’s schools based on negative media information.”

Jerusha Connor, an assistant professor of education at Villanova University, said in an interview that “the failings of the nation’s schools, particularly urban schools, have been well-documented by researchers and sensationalized by the media.”

Connor said, “The poll results seem to show Americans' increasing willingness to acknowledge the unacceptability of a system that precludes so many students, particularly low-income students of color, from a high-quality education.”

He suggests that better questions to ask would be, “What, if anything, are you willing to do about your belief that so many of the nation's schools are achieving poor results?” and “Are failing schools only the responsibility of those who live in the communities they serve, or are they the collective concern and responsibility of us all?”

Teachers, like local schools, fared well in the survey, most likely because everyone knows a local teacher. Teachers continue to be admired in society as 71 percent of respondents said they have trust and confidence in them.

Other findings include:

  • Opinion is split on whether standardized test scores should be used to evaluate teachers—52 percent said yes, 47 percent said no.
  • Sixty-two percent of those surveyed would be willing to pay more taxes to provide funds to urban schools while 37 percent would not. That’s down from 66 percent in 1998.
  • Participants split on whether students should be required to graduate from high school in order to be issued a license to drive a car—47 percent said yes, 53 percent answered no.

Politics were also examined in the poll. Fifty percent of respondents said that the Democratic Party was more interested in improving public education, while 38 percent said the Republican Party was.

Thirty-seven percent gave President Barack Obama an A and B grade for his support in public schools. In 2011, 41 percent gave him the same grade. But both were improved ratings over his 34 percent in 2010.

If education was the single issue used to measure preference in voting for president in November, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney would be in a close race. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote for Obama while 44 percent said Romney. Eight percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Although public schools are often affected by politics, more than half of respondents—56 percent—did not vote in an election that affected local schools in the last year. A more staggering 73 percent said they have not volunteered in a public school in the last 12 months.

For the last 10 years, support has continually risen for charter schools. But this year, that’s declined from 70 percent last year to 66 percent this year. But those in favor of private school vouchers increased from 34 percent last year to 44 percent this year.

Bullying continues to be a hot topic in schools.

The Phi Delta Kappa International-Gallup poll dedicated an entire section to it. While a staggering 78 percent of participants said that bullying prevention should be part of a school’s curriculum, another 41 percent didn’t think schools investigate and discipline students involved in bullying incidents outside of school. That included bullying that occurs over the Internet.

Only 16 percent of the adult respondents confessed to bullying another student in school, but 45 percent said they had been bullied while in school.

In conclusion, the poll shows that America still desires excellent teachers, but that the nation’s education system needs an image makeover and less regulated standards in order for teachers and students to excel.

What grade do you give your local schools? Tell us in comments.