Most Americans give their community’s public schools high marks, particularly if their children attend those schools, the 41st annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools has found. More than 50 percent of Americans gave their local schools either an A or B, which equaled the highest scores in the history of the poll. A record number—75 percent—gave the school attended by their oldest child an A or B.
A majority of American also support charter schools. Too bad they don't know what they are.
Whether the issue is expanding charter schools or implementing merit pay for teachers, Americans appear to agree with President Barack Obama’s plans for education reform, according to the 2009 annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.
The President’s ambitious agenda includes higher standards and more funding for early learning settings, expanding charter schools, reshaping teacher pay to reward effective teachers, and introducing common standards that could lead to a national test administered by states.
The findings indicate that Americans continue to support annual testing of students in grades three through eight by a two-to-one margin, and they favor using a single national test rather than letting each state use its own. This opinion is held by Democrats and Republicans equally.
Two out of three Americans support charter schools, although many Americans are confused about whether charter schools are public schools and whether they can charge tuition, teach religion, or select their own students. During the last five years, Americans’ approval of charter schools has increased by 15 percent.
The poll, which is conducted annually by Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) in conjunction with Gallup, asked Americans about using stimulus money to save teachers’ jobs, investing in early childhood education, and other public education issues. Specifically, 46 percent of Americans support the use of stimulus money earmarked for education to retain teachers slated to be laid off, and 81 percent of Americans favor making kindergarten compulsory.
The 2009 poll also reveals that almost three out of four Americans favor merit pay for teachers regardless of political affiliation. Student academic achievement, administrator evaluations, and advanced degrees are the three most favored criteria for awarding merit pay.
“The poll results appear to be a permission slip for the President’s education agenda," said William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International and co-director of the PDK/Gallup poll. “It provides a ringing endorsement for many of the Administration’s planned changes that will be taken up in Congress next year as lawmakers debate what to do with the No Child Left behind Act.”
Other Key Findings:
• NCLB Fatigue? Americans are also growing weary of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In fact, support for NCLB, which was passed in 2002, continues to decline as almost half of Americans view it unfavorably and only one in four Americans believe that it has helped schools in their communities.
• Split Views on Teacher Tenure. American views are split on teacher tenure depending on how the question is phrased. They disapprove of teachers having a “lifetime contract” but agree that teachers should have a formal legal review before being terminated.
• Dropout Rate of Top Importance. Almost nine out of 10 Americans believe that the U.S. high school dropout rate is either the most important or one of the most important problems facing high schools today. Offering more interesting classes was the suggestion offered most when asked what could help reduce the dropout rate.
• Support for Required Kindergarten. Americans strongly endorse making either halfday or full-day kindergarten compulsory for all children. Five out of 10 Americans believe preschool programs should be housed in public schools, with parents even more supportive of that idea. This is a significant change from 18 years ago when Americans were evenly divided between public schools, parent’s workplace, and special preschool facilities. Almost six out of 10 Americans would be willing to pay more taxes to fund free preschool programs for children whose parents are unable to pay.
• Americans Well-Informed by Newspapers. Almost 75 percent of Americans say they are either well-informed or fairly well-informed about their schools, citing newspapers as their primary source of information about schools, despite the declines in the newspaper industry, and school employees as their secondary source.
• Support for Higher Teacher Salaries. Overall, Americans demonstrate a deep respect for public school teachers, stating that beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate should earn an average starting salary of approximately $43,000, a substantial increase over the current average starting salary of $35,300. Additionally, seven out of 10 would like a child of theirs to become a public school teacher, the highest favorable rating in three decades.