School Superintendents Think Parents Just Don’t Understand, Gallup Poll Finds

By Corey Mitchell — January 06, 2016 3 min read
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A nationwide Gallup poll found that less than a third of K-12 superintendents surveyed believe that parents in their school district have a solid understanding of the district’s academic model and curriculum.

And just 16 percent of the superintendents surveyed think that parents understand how the state accountability system evaluates their schools.

Roughly 70 percent of superintendents say parents need more information to understand how states assess school perfomance.

The poll results show that parents aren’t the only the group that superintendents think need a K-12 education primer. Respondents gave the federal government less-than-stellar marks on how it has handled K-12 policy in the last five years. An overwhelming majority (89 percent) think the federal government has done an “only fair” or “poor” job.

The poll did not ask questions about specific concerns with federal education policy so “it is unclear if superintendents disagree with specific policy actions the Obama administration and Congress have taken, or if superintendents are expressing a more general attitude that education policy is best determined at the local level,” the authors of an accompanying report wrote.

In conducting the survey, the Washington-based Gallup organization queried 11,750 superintendents across the country in online polls this past November. The roughly 1,300 superintendents who participated can be projected to represent school districts nationwide.

Evaluating Schools

The schools chiefs also offered opinions on how to best evaluate public school systems. Eighty-three percent of poll respondents ranked high school graduation rates, student engagement, and student optimism as very important factors.

When measuring effectiveness, the school leaders believe that what happens during school is more important when than what happens when students finish, including the percentage who to go college, trade school, or find a job immediately after high school. The polls results closely align with a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup education survey of public K-12 parents conducted earlier in 2015.

Despite emphasizing what happens during their time in high school, many superintendents reported that their schools are expanding their course offerings to help students succeed after graduation, with roughly 80 percent offering foreign language courses, opportunities for dual enrollment to earn college credit, or career and technical education. And about 60 percent of superintendents say their districts offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and SAT or ACT preparation.

The numbers could actually be higher among districts that have high schools. A large number of superintendents chose the “don’t know/don’t apply” option, possibly because their districts only cover the elementary school grades.

Testing Trials

Two-thirds of superintendents reported that their schools are spending more time preparing for standardized tests. Among those respondents, 60 percent say their district’s tests scores aren’t high enough and 61 percent reported that students are taking more standardized tests than they used to.

Seventy-eight percent of superintendents perceive that parents in their districts believe that there is too much testing in their schools.

Eighty-nine percent of superintendents think it’s at least somewhat important to gauge their students’ performance against their peers in other districts. That may be a matter of “Keeping up with the Joneses": the school leaders that participated in the survey were less likely to value comparisons to others state or countries.

The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey conducted earlier in the year found that parents were less likely to regard the comparison as important.

2015 Superintendent Report

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.