Two national opinion polls regarding K-12 education have been released, offering sometimes contradictory insights into public views on educational issues.
The 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools focused heavily on standardized testing and academic standards, including the controversial Common Core. It also polled on attitudes toward school choice, evaluation of public schools and views on the roles different levels of government should play.
The 9th annual Education Next Poll on School Reform addressed some of the same topics, but also covers more in depth issues of interest on what is usually considered the “conservative” side of school reform.
The PDK/Gallup poll broke out results by the nation as a whole, public school parents, political party (Republican, Democrat and Independent) and ethnicity (blacks, Hispanics, whites). The EdNext poll also includes the public and parents, the same three racial/ethnic groups, and a separate category of teachers.
The PDK/Gallup poll reports “Americans agree that there is too much testing in schools, but few parents report that their children are complaining about excessive testing.” Two-thirds of respondents say there is “too much emphasis on standardized testing.”
Only 14 percent of both the public and parents say standardized tests are “very important” to measuring the effectiveness of public schools in their community. On the other hand, 78 percent of the public and 80 percent of parents say student engagement in their classwork was very important. Other indicators of public school effectiveness rated higher than testing as “very important” included students who feel hopeful about their future (77 percent of the public, 81 percent of parents), students who graduate from high school (68 percent of the public, 75 percent of parents), high school graduates who go to college or community college (38 percent of the public, 39 percent of parents) and graduates who get jobs immediately after completing high school (27 percent of the public, 31 percent of parents).
Yet the EdNext poll found that two-thirds of respondents strongly or somewhat favored continuing the federal requirement to test all students in reading and math once a year in grades three to eight and once in high schools.
Forty-four percent of all PDK/Gallup respondents opposed allowing children to be excused from taking standardized tests, with 41 percent supported an opt-out policy. The EdNext Poll found just 26 percent of the public supported an opt-out. While PDK/Gallup found 47 percent of public school parents supported an opt-out compared to 40 percent opposed, EdNext found just 32 percent of parents in support and 51 percent against. PDK/Gallup reported 31 percent of parents said they would excuse their own child. EdNext did not ask that question.
PDK/Gallup asked other questions that found limited public support for testing. Only 16 percent said scores on standardized tests provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress, trailing examples of students’ work (38 percent) and teachers’ written observations (28 percent) and grades awarded (21 percent).
Only about 20 percent of respondents thought it was important to use standardized tests to compare students in the community to other districts, states and countries.
However, blacks and Hispanics were generally more supportive of standardized testing than whites.
Although EdNext found more support than PDK/Gallup for standardized testing, only 29 percent of the public and 35 percent of parents thought state tests did a “very good” or “good” job measuring what students learn in reading and math.
Common Core Standards
When the Common Core was introduced several years ago, supporters were confident support would grow when the public learned more about it. That is not reflected in the PDK/Gallup poll. Sixty-one percent of the public and 72 percent of parents say they know “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the Common Core standards - and 54 percent of both groups oppose requiring teachers to use these standards.
The EdNext poll shows slightly higher levels of support for the Common Core, depending somewhat on the wording of the question, but acknowledges support has been dropping from previous years. In addition, EdNext found that a majority of both the public and parents say implementation of Common Core standards has had a “somewhat” or “strongly negative” impact in their district.
Supporters of the Common Core say they were designed to raise standards. PDK/Gallup found that while opposing the Common Core, 39 percent of the public and 33 percent of parents feel community standards are too low while 37 percent of the public and 48 percent of parents say current standards are about right, and 6 percent of the public and 12 percent of parents say standards are too high.
Both polls found strong support for “public” school choice. PDK/Gallup found nearly two-thirds of both the public and parents support the “idea of charter schools,” which generally means a public school at least somewhat independent from the local school board and free from most state regulations; and are in favor allowing students and parents to choose which public school to attend, regardless of where they live. EdNext reported majorities of the public and parents - but not teachers - either completely or somewhat favoring the formation of charter schools.
However, the polls differed regarding public support for private education. PDK/Gallup found 57 percent of the public and 58 percent of parents were opposed to allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.
EdNext asked several different questions regarding private school choice. About 55 percent of the public and parents either “completely” or “somewhat” supported the idea of tax credits for private school scholarship for low income students, and nearly 20 percent were neutral. Kansas passed such a program last year and expanded eligibility this session.
A narrower majority also supported a proposal to give “all” families government assistance to help pay for tuition at private schools. There was less support for proposals to help only low income students attend private schools. In all cases, African-Americans and Hispanics had stronger support for these private school choice proposals than whites or the public at large.
EdNext also reported that support for school choice proposals have been edging down over the past several years.
Evaluating Public Schools
There was no “news” from the PDK/Gallup poll on one issue: as has been the case for 30 years, Americans think highly of their local schools - and think the rest of the nation isn’t doing very well. Two-thirds of parents and the public give the school their child attends a grade of A or B. A majority give an A or B to schools in their community. However, only about 20 percent say schools nationally rate an A or B.
EdNext results were similar, with 52 percent of the public and 55 percent of parents giving their community schools an A or B, and 23 percent of the public and 28 percent of parents giving public schools nationally an A or B.
EdNext also reported that over 70 percent of parents and the public think their community schools deserve an A or B for serving the most talented students, but only 29 percent of the public and 40 percent of parents said the same about serving the least talented students. Respondents also thought public schools were doing a better job with girls than boys.
PDK/Gallup asked what percentage of students in this country were receiving a high quality education. Less than 10 percent of parents and the public believe more than 75 percent of U.S. students are receiving a high quality education, and only 29 percent believed 50 to 75 percent of students are receiving a high quality education. That means about two-third of respondents think less than half of U.S. students are getting a high quality education.
As has been the case for the past 10 years, the PDK/Gallup poll found the public believes lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing public schools. Eighty-four percent of the public and 88 percent of parents say how much money schools have to spend is “somewhat” or “very” important. At least 20 percent of every group except Republicans (11 percent) say lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing schools. No other issue exceeds 10 percent except “standards/quality of education” (10 percent of public school parents, 11 percent of Republicans).
EdNext asks a different set of questions. First, the poll asked respondents to guess the average amount of money spent each year for a child in the local community and the U.S. as a whole. The average guess ($6,307 locally, $7,056 nationally) is far below the actual TOTAL revenues reported by the U.S. Government ($12,380 nationally and $11,596 in Kansas in 2012-13).
Next, respondents are asked whether funding for public schools in their district should greatly increase, increase, stay about the same, decrease or greatly decrease. Respondents who were not told the actual level of spending supported an increase by about two-to-one. If told the actual level of funding, support for increased funding dropped - although in most case a plurality still favored increased funding. In no case did more than 12 percent of any group favor a decrease in funding.
Control of Education
Both surveys asked which level of government - federal, state or local - should control certain aspects of educational policy. With some exceptions, most respondents favored the state first, followed by local leaders (school boards) and federal control last.
EdNext asked several questions about teacher issues. Fifty-three percent of the public and 58 percent of parents say teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B for the quality of their work. Forty-seven percent of both say teachers nationally deserve an A or B.
EdNext also asked respondents to guess the average yearly teacher salary in their state. The average response was below the actual average salary. As with funding, respondents were then asked if teacher salaries should greatly increase, increase, stay about the same, decrease or greatly decrease. Over 60 percent of respondents thought pay should be increased, and over 45 percent said taxes to fund teacher salaries should be increased.
When told the actual level of salaries, support for higher salaries dropped below 50 percent, and support for higher taxes dropped below 40 percent. However, in no case did more than 11 percent of respondents say salaries or taxes for salaries should decrease.
EdNext also found that a majority of respondents favor basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn. However, PDK/Gallup found that 55 percent of the public and 61 percent of parents oppose requiring student test performance in evaluating teachers.
Finally, EdNext found that parents and the public oppose “teacher tenure” by about two-to-one, with about 20 percent neither favoring nor opposing. More respondents said teacher unions generally have a negative effect on school funding than a positive effect, but about 20 percent did not have an opinion.