School & District Management

Knight Survey Finds Solid Public Support for Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — March 29, 2000 2 min read

Six in 10 Americans believe their public schools are doing a good or excellent job, but that opinion varies depending on the community in which they live, a national survey has found.

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In the survey released this month by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 63 percent of respondents gave their public schools positive ratings, holding them in higher esteem than their local governments (55 percent positive). Other areas of local government received higher ratings: the fire department (90 percent), public libraries (79 percent positive), and the police department (74 percent).

The survey by the Miami-based foundation sought to gauge the opinions of Americans on a variety of issues. The results will be used to help the philanthropy shape its grantmaking decisions in the 26 cities where the Knight brothers have published newspapers.

Between 1990 and 1999, the Knight Foundation made 2,143 grants totaling $150 million in those cities, focusing on improving the quality of life in seven areas: arts and culture, children/social welfare, citizenship, community development, education, homelessness, and literacy.

Those areas formed the basis of the survey. Pollsters telephoned a representative sampling of 17,000 participants last year: 1,200 in various towns across the country and an additional 500 to 1,300 citizens of each of the 26 “Knight Foundation communities.”

‘Pretty Good’ Ratings

Evans Witt, the pollster who oversaw the survey, said the findings suggest that while Americans are concerned about public education in general, and consider it to be one of the most important issues of the day, they are fairly satisfied with their own local schools.

“A 63 rating is pretty good,” he said. “Presidents of the United States would be thrilled to have a 63 percent job-approval rating.”

Positive evaluations of public schools varied by community, a finding Mr. Witt said reflects local residents’ knowledge of and experience with their own school systems.

Of 11 problem issues that pollsters asked respondents about, educational quality ranked low.

Only 39 percent of respondents nationally said public school quality was a problem in their own communities, compared with those who cited the following as problems: too little citizen participation in improving the community (62 percent), not enough affordable housing (55 percent), unemployment (54 percent), and illiteracy (48 percent).

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A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as Knight Survey Finds Solid Public Support for Schools

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