Americans Speak Out: Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening?--The 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward Public Schools

William J. Bushaw and John A. McNee
Phi Delta Kappan
September 2009

This hefty annual offering, which features some repeat questions and others dusted-off less frequently, is worth a yearly revisit. There's so much data in this big guy that we'd be hard pressed to even scratch the surface but we'll give it our best shot. So what do we think about public education in 2009? First, public schools aren't great and are getting worse. While most of us (51 percent) rate our local schools highly, far fewer (19 percent) are pleased with public schools nationally. Fifty percent say children today get a worse education than they received themselves. Second, we don't like the brand called No Child Left Behind but we support its major mandates. Just 28 percent look favorably on NCLB and only 24 percent believe the law is helping our local schools. Yet, two-thirds of us support requiring annual tests in grades three through eight, and this support has remained steady since 2002. And just one-third support letting each state use its own tests; instead, we continue to favor using a single standardized test nationwide, just as we did in 2002. (This should be welcome news to the Common Core State Standards initiative.) Third, we're not convinced early childhood education is worth the investment. Fifty-nine percent of us (including 53 percent of public school parents) believe that starting formal education one year earlier than usual would have a negative or no effect on children's future academic achievement (this is down just two points from 1997). Further, fewer of us are willing to pay more in taxes to fund preschool for disadvantaged children (42 percent said no in 2009, up from 36 percent in 1993). Fourth, we're pro-merit-pay and want to use student achievement to inform it. Seventy-two percent of us support merit pay for teachers, and 73 percent believe it should be fed by student performance measured by standardized tests. Fifth, charter support is growing. Two-thirds now support the idea of charter schools, up 15 percent from five years ago. And sixth, we're not as informed as we think we are. Nearly three-quarters of us claim to be "well-informed" or "fairly well-informed" about public schools. At the same time, more than half of us do not think charter schools are public schools, 46 percent believe they can teach religion, 57 percent say they can charge tuition, and a whopping 71 percent believe charters can select students based on ability--up from 58 percent just three years ago. Read the report here.

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