Public Education in the United States: A Nation Divided

Results from the umpty-fourth Phi Delta Kappan (PDK)/Gallup survey of Americans regarding public education released today, and they include some important revelations.

  • Support for the Common Core academic standards is strong and opposition weak (50 percent believe the standards will improve the quality of education; 8 percent hold they will decrease it).
  • The public divides right down the middle (a 52-48 split) over including students’ academic results in teacher evaluations.
  • For the first time, support for charter schools declined a bit since the previous survey (70 percent in favor in 2011, 66 percent this year), and it’s more partisan than before, with Republicans in favor at the 80 percent level, Democrats at 54.
  • At the same time, support for vouchers is rising, with 44 percent now positive even though the PDK/Gallup folks relentlessly phrase their voucher question in the most off-putting way possible: Do you “favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?”
  • Almost two thirds say they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to improve urban public schools. And a plurality (for the first time) says that “lack of financial support” is the biggest problem facing public schools. Yet when it comes to Uncle Sam solving that problem, a whopping majority (60 percent) says that balancing the federal budget is more urgent than improving the education system.
  • But not for illegal immigrants! Almost three in five Americans oppose providing them with public education.
  • Compared with four years ago, the 2012 presidential election finds Americans almost evenly divided as to which candidate would be better for public education. In 2008, it was Obama 46 percent, McCain 29 percent (and there were many “don’t knows”). Now it’s Obama 49 percent, Romney 44 percent—and most people seem to have settled their minds on this.

There’s more, of course, and you’ll want to dig in. Don’t expect survey results to settle anything but these are, at minimum, tantalizing and provocative.

SOURCE: William J. Bushaw and Shane J. Lopez, Public Education in the United States: A Nation Divided (Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappan; Washington, D.C.: Gallup Organization, September 2012).

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