Amid a national debate about the worth of a college education, a respected annual poll about the education views held by Americans has found that only 44 percent of Americans now believe that getting a college education is “very important” — down from 75 percent four years ago.
It also found that a majority of public school parents want teacher training programs to be more selective and that they believe new teachers should work for at least a year with a certified teacher before taking over a class by themselves — a finding in opposition to the philosophy practiced by the popular Teach For America program that has been embraced by the Obama administration.
The poll is the 46th annual PDK-Gallup poll, which has been seen as presenting a solid picture of where public sentiment lies on education issues. PDK is a global association of education professionals, which has conducted this poll with Gallup every year since 1969. The first part of the poll was released last month, with findings that included a majority of Americans opposing the Common Core State Standards and support for President Obama’s education agenda waning.
The second part, released on Tuesday, covers issues including teacher training, the importance of a college education and whether teachers should be evaluated on the standardized test scores of their students. Here are some of the findings, taken from the report:
*Six of 10 Americans said entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs should be more rigorous.
* 61% of Americans opposed using student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.
*For the first time in the five years that we asked the question, American trust and confidence in teachers declined; nonetheless a majority of Americans (64%) said they trust teachers.
*A majority of Americans (58%) said the curriculum used in their community’s schools needs to change.
*More Americans agree than disagree that students should have shorter summer breaks and longer breaks at other times of year — akin to a year-round school scenario.
As for teachers, 64 percent of Americans (and the same percentage of public school parents) reported having “trust and confidence” in public school teachers, which was down from 72 percent in 2013. A big majority of respondents — 81 percent — said that new teachers should be required to take a test akin to a “bar exam” that prospective lawyers must take before practicing law, and that requirements for entrance to teacher preparation should be tightened.
Furthermore, more than 70 percent of Americans said that teacher trainees should spend a year or more “practicing teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility for his or her own class.” This finding goes against the philosophy of Teach For America, which provides most of its corps members, who are new college graduates, five weeks of summer training before they are placed to teach on their own in high-poverty schools. Many critics, including some former TFA corps members, have said five weeks is hardly enough to train a teacher.
According to the poll:
One of the more surprising findings was the declining belief that a college education today is very important. Just four years ago, 75% of Americans held that belief. Now, less than 50% said a college education is very important today. Similarly, in 2010, 77% of parents said it was somewhat or very likely that they would be able to pay for college for their oldest child. That percentage declined to 69% this year.
On the whole, Americans are doubtful about students’ career readiness. Just 3% of Americans say a high school dropout is ready for the world of work, and just 13% say a high school grad is ready. Thirty-seven percent of Americans agree that college grads are ready for the work world, and fewer (31%) agree high school grads are ready for college.
In order of importance, Americans believe the most important factor in helping a high school student get a good job one day is: learning skills like dependability, persistence, and teamwork; having a mentor or adviser; earning a B or higher grade point average; and working on a real-world project that takes at least six months to complete. Performing well on standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT, was rated lowest in importance for getting a good job.
The pollsters also asked whether Americans believe the country should provide a free public education to the children of undocumented immigrants. Here’s what the survey said:
Interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans, with a sub-sample of public school parents, were conducted last May and June. The maximum margin of sampling error is +/- 4.6, at the 95 percent confidence level.