Most American adults are weary of the intense focus on academics in public schools today, according to a new national survey, and want students to get more vocational and career training as well as mental, physical and dental services on campus. Even so, a majority of public school parents give higher grades — A’s and B’s — to the traditional public schools in their neighborhoods than they have in years.
A majority of Americans polled also said they oppose programs that use public money for private and religious school education, policies that are supported by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And a majority said they do not think that standardized test scores — which have been used for more than a dozen years as the most important factor in evaluating schools — are a valid reflection of school quality.
These are some of the findings in the 49th annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the longest continuously running survey of American attitudes toward public education, released late Monday. It was commissioned by PDK International, a global association of education professionals that is headed by Joshua Starr, former superintendent of the Montgomery County Public School District, and was conducted, for the second year, by Langer Research Associates of New York City. Gallup had long conducted the poll.
“These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates — from supporting vouchers to emphasizing high-stakes tests — are out of step with parents’ main concern: They want their children prepared for life and career after they complete high school,” Starr said in a release.
The poll indicated increased support for traditional public schools at a time when Trump and DeVos have pushed alternatives to them. DeVos has called the traditional public education system a “dead end,” and Trump has repeatedly disparaged public schools as “failing.”
Let’s jump to this month, where on Tuesday, in Phoenix, Trump did it again. During a diatribe against the media, he said:
Not only does the media give a platform to hate groups, but the media turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets, the failures of our public schools, the destruction of our wealth at the hands of the terrible, terrible trade deals made by politicians that should’ve never been allowed to be politicians.
The new poll finds that the proportion of Americans who give their community’s public schools an A grade is at its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling. In the newest survey, 62 percent of public school parents gave public schools in their own communities an A or B grade, compared with 45 percent of nonparents. Grades go higher when parents are grading their own school — 71 percent gave them A’s or B’s. The report said that 24 percent of Americans give public schools nationally an A or B (with no difference between parents and all adults), and it noted:
There’s no contradiction in the gap. Awareness of a few poor schools can diminish the ratings of all schools together, driving down scores nationally while leaving local scores far better.
But 52 percent of Americans oppose using public funds to send students to private school and opposition rises to 61 percent when the issue is described in more detail, the report says, indicating that Americans broadly care about the issue of how public funds are spent.
Still there was this: If cost and location were not issues, just one-third of parents say they’d pick a traditional public school over a private school (31 percent), public charter school (17 percent), or a religious school (14 percent). Fifty-four percent said they would stick with a public school if they were offered public funds to send their child to a private or religious school — but only if they received full tuition. If they received only half of tuition for private or religious school, 72 percent of parents said they would stick with a traditional public school.
Among other findings:
• There was strong support for “wraparound” services for children who need it at school. Ninety-two percent said schools should offer after-school activities; 87 percent said schools should offer mental health services; 79 percent said they wanted general health services; and 65 percent said schools should offer dental services to students.
• Eighty-two percent of Americans support job or career skills classes even if that means students might spend less time in academic classes.
• Eighty-six percent say schools in their community should offer certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment in a given field.
• Eight in 10 see technology and engineering classes as an extremely important or very important element of school quality.
• Eighty-two percent also say that it is highly important for schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others and persistent at solving problems.
• When it comes to judging school quality, 76 percent said advanced academic classes are highly important indicators, but only 42 percent said performance on standardized tests is a highly important indicator of school quality; 13 percent said test scores are extremely important. Far more point to developing students’ interpersonal skills — 39 percent — and offering technology and engineering instruction — 37 percent — as extremely important.
• Fifty-five percent of Americans polled said having a mix of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds in public schools is extremely or very important. The demographic breakdown: blacks, 72 percent; Hispanics, 57 percent; whites, 48 percent. Democrats cited this as important nearly twice as often as Republicans.
The new survey is based on a random, representative, 50-state sample of 1,588 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone, in English or Spanish in May, and results are weighted to reflect the population of overall American adults as well as American parents with school-age children. Results have a sampling error of 3.5 percentage points for all American adults and 5 percentage points for American parents of school-age children.
Here are some graphics from the report: