School & District Management

Poll: Building Character More Important Goal of K-12 Ed. Than Building Economy

By Catherine Gewertz — February 19, 2014 2 min read
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Americans rank “building character” above bolstering the economy when asked to name the most important long-term goals of K-12 education, according to a new poll.

“Education Roadtrip,” a survey of 6,400 voters, conducted by the nonprofit advocacy group 50CAN, found that twice as many respondents chose character-building as those who chose “a healthy economy” when asked about what’s most important in the long haul for education. It’s an intriguing finding, given all the high-profile policy and research proclamations about how crucial schooling is to building tomorrow’s workforce.

By a landslide, respondents ranked building character above building independence and leadership, creating a lifelong love of learning, helping create a healthy economy, providing equal opportunities, helping people become good citizens, and providing “self fulfillment.”

50CAN, formally the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now, which is funded by a host of folks, including Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, compared voters’ views on various issues in eight regions of the country, and found certain consistencies across the regions, including this (which will ring certain bells among those who have been following the debate over the Common Core State Standards): “A majority of voters across all eight regions don’t want elected officials in D.C. driving change in their schools.”

(The Gates and Walton foundations also support news coverage in Education Week.)

Respondents expressed support for “holding all students across the country to a uniform set of high standards"—60 percent to 69 percent backed this notion, depending upon the region—but when asked specifically about whether they favor the Common Core State Standards, 54 percent to 61 percent said they weren’t familiar with those new expectations, which have been adopted by all but four states.

The common core wasn’t the top option that respondents chose when asked what steps they’d take to improve education, though. Consistent top vote-getters on that question were minimizing bureaucracy so schools are freer to change, and giving parents more educational options for their children.

When asked who they trust to make the best decisions about education, answers varied by region. In some places, such as the Western states, teachers, principals, and parents ranked far higher than did teachers’ unions or local, state, or U.S. education officials. In others, such as the mid-Atlantic, teachers’ unions, as well as state and federal education officials, got top marks.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.