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Poll: Rising Share of Americans Like Their Local Schools ... But There’s a Catch

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 23, 2016 4 min read
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Are you a fan of your local public school? Then you’ve got some company—in fact, you might have more company than at any other time in recent history.

That’s one main conclusion from results of a public-opinion poll released by Education Next, a K-12 policy journal, on Tuesday. The poll, which has been conducted since 2007, found that a higher share of respondents would give their local schools an A or B grade (55 percent) than in any other previous survey conducted by the group. Views of public schools have improved across several demographic groups broken out by Education Next since 2007, but whites’ views of their local schools remain markedly better than those of blacks and Hispanics.

But the public also believes that the nation’s public education system is less than the sum of its parts. In fact, just 25 percent would give one of those two top marks to U.S. schools as a whole.

An analysis of the results from Education Next argues that it’s hard to understand why members of the public are generally pleased with their local schools, given America’s relative performance on international tests. The analysis goes on to note that the public’s opinion on this point seems to jibe with the policy shift in the Every Student Succeed Act, which Congress passed last year to reauthorize federal education law, and which reduces the federal role in schools.

“Perhaps members of Congress heard from their constituents that they felt their local schools were good enough,” says the Education Next analysis of the results written by Paul E. Peterson, Michael B. Henderson, Martin R. West, and Samuel Barrows.

Support for annual, federally required testing remains strong in the poll, although support for the testing opt-out movement has gained support among teachers.

Education Next is published by the right-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Who Thinks What About Schools

For the grades the public would give to local schools, let’s compare the 2007 results, the first year of Education Next’s survey, to 2016. Back in 2007, 43 percent of the public gave their local schools an A or B grade. Here’s how that’s shifted:

According to the survey, blacks’ and Hispanics’ views of their local public schools have improved overall, but they are less likely to rate them well than whites and the general public. And in general, the growth in the share of the public giving local schools a B has grown more than the share of those who say their local schools deserve an A.

Note that the survey included public school employees in 2007, but did not specify that they were teachers. The 2007 survey also didn’t break out Democrats, Republicans, and parents as did the poll in 2016.

But what about the public’s view of the nations’ schools overall? How has that changed from 2007 to 2016?

So not much change from 2007, when 22 percent gave the nation’s schools an A or B. Hispanics’ views of America’s schools seems to have shifted the most.

Here are a few more accountability-related tidbits:

  • For the general public, 69 percent in 2016 support federal testing requirements that students be assessed in reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. That’s compared to 67 percent in 2015. Among all the demographic groups, Hispanics expressed the most support at 75 percent.
  • Support for the Common Core State Standards continues to slide, with just 42 percent supporting it—down from 49 percent last year—and 42 percent opposed, up from 35 percent last year. However, when Education Next replaced “Common Core” with “standards for reading and math that are the same across states” by which students are judged, support in 2016 jumped to 55 percent and opposition drooped 28 percent. Given that several states have fiddled with, altered, or replaced at least portions of the common core recently, whether the standards are truly same across state lines might be increasingly up for debate.

Clinton and Trump Tidbits

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton may have the ardent support of the two national teachers’ unions, but how do members of her party feel about their impact on schools? Forty-two of Democrats surveyed told Education Next that unions have a generally positive impact on schools, with just 23 percent saying they have a generally negative impact, and 35 percent saying they’re neither positive nor negative for schools. (Among Republicans, 21 percent thought they had a positive impact, 33 percent were neutral, and 47 percent thought unions had a negative impact.)

And if GOP nominee Donald Trump is looking for an education issue popular with his party, he might try charter schools. In fact, he’s been touching on his support for school choice more frequently recently, it seems. Education Next found that 60 percent of Republicans said they support the formation of charters when a definition for them is provided, with 21 percent opposed. However, just 41 percent of Republicans support universal tuition vouchers, with 49 percent opposed. (Among Democrats, the breakdown was 45 percent in favor, 22 percent neutral, and 33 percent opposed.)

The sample size of the survey was just under 4,200, and it was conducted in May and June of this year. There were 1,571 parents with school-age children in the home in the sample, along with 609 teachers. Fifty-two percent of the respondents identified as Democrats, while 44 percent said they were Republicans, and 4 percent identified as independents.

There’s a lot more in the Education Next survey results about teacher policy, racial disparities in discipline, school spending, among other topics. And check out what our coworker Corey Mitchell wrote about the separate K-12 poll results from Education Next and Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup last year.

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