The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Poll: Most Americans oppose key tenets of modern school reform

What do Americans think of key aspects of modern school reform? Not much, according to the findings of a respected annual poll.

Not only do most Americans think kids are subjected to too many standardized tests, but a majority reject holding teachers, students and schools accountable based in part on test scores, the survey found. And there’s this: The No. 1 problem Americans said their local schools are facing isn’t bad teachers or unions but insufficient funding, a finding that has remained consistent for the past 10 years.

The findings of the 47th annual PDK-Gallup poll, the longest continuously running survey of American attitudes toward public education, were released Sunday. PDK International is a global association of education professionals and is headed by Joshua Starr, a former superintendent of the Montgomery County Public School District. PDK has conducted this poll with Gallup every year since 1969. Some of the survey was conducted by phone, and some, for the first time, by Web. Results from both are said be nationally representative of Americans as a whole and subgroups, such as public school parents. The poll is being published by PDK’s Kappan magazine.

The 2015 poll (with this as its main headline: “Testing Doesn’t Measure Up for Americans”) finds that a majority of Americans, as well as a majority of American public school parents, object to some of the key tenets of modern school reform. For example, 64 percent say there is too much emphasis on standardized testing (7 percent say there isn’t enough).

And most Americans have an issue with evaluating teachers with student standardized test scores, a controversial method that has been pushed by the Obama administration and embraced by states despite warnings by assessment experts that it is not a valid way to judge teachers.

According to the poll, about 80 percent of Americans said that student engagement with classwork and a high level of hope for the future are very important for measuring the effectiveness of public schools in their communities. Fewer rated the percentage of graduates attending college and getting a job right after high school as very important. Testing came in last as a measure of effectiveness, with just 14 percent of public school parents rating test scores as very important, making it the last of the options.

School choice is a key tenet of school reform, supported by the Obama administration and Republican governors. According to the poll, 64 percent of Americans support it. Six in 10 parents surveyed said they have enough information to make an informed choice. But most Americans oppose vouchers, which use public funding to pay for private school tuition, with only 31 percent supporting them. The Obama administration opposes vouchers as well, although some Democrats support them.

[Controversial teacher evaluation method is on trial — literally — and the judge is not amused]

Another key feature of modern school reform is the Common Core State Standards. Last year’s PDK/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans oppose the standards. The 2015 poll found that most Americans don’t seem to care much for one of the important elements of the Core initiative: the notion that it is important to be able to compare student standardized test scores across states. Common assessments was one of the foundational concepts behind the Common Core, and the Obama administration gave $360 million to two multistate consortia to develop assessments that would allow such comparisons.  Here is what the poll found on this score:

Among other findings:

*57 percent of public school parents — and 51 percent of Americans overall — give their local traditional public schools an “A” or “B.” The percentage range of A’s and B’s for local schools has not varied much over the past 25 years, the poll found, “a remarkable finding when you consider the multitude of reports questioning the quality of American education.” But only 21 percent of Americans gave A’s or B’s to public schools nationwide.

*47 percent of public school parents say they should have the right to have their children opt out of taking specific standardized tests used for “accountability.”

*95 percent rated “quality of the teachers” as very important for improving local public schools, putting it at the top of a list of five options.

*84 percent support mandatory vaccinations for students in public schools.

And most Americans oppose a large federal role in local education decisions, which could be viewed as a criticism of Education Department’s involvement in No Child Left Behind, a measure pushed by President George W. Bush, and Race to the Top, a federal funding program pushed by President Obama, which gave the U.S. education secretary more power than any of his predecessors.