Americans Want Local Schools To Blend
Work Readiness, Interpersonal Skills
PDK Poll Finds Public Doesn’t Support Using Taxpayer Funds
For Tuition at Private, Religious Schools;
Favors Diversity But Unwilling To Do Much to Achieve it
ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 28, 2017 — The American public wants more than academic quality from its local public schools. It also places a strong emphasis on career skills classes, licensing and certificate programs, and technology and engineering classes. The public also wants educators to find ways to help students develop their interpersonal skills and limit standardized tests.
And if students need mental health programs and after-school programs, local school systems should provide such “wraparound services” and should be able to seek additional public funding to support them, according to public sentiment.
The poll also reveals that parents value racial/ethnic and economic diversity in their schools, although most aren’t willing to undertake a longer commute to reach schools that would provide that for their children.
These findings are just part of the latest edition of the annual Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the defining public opinion survey on American public education for the past 49 years.
The 2017 PDK survey finds that certain attitudes toward public education follow recent trends while others continue to challenge the thinking of education and government leaders. For example, reliance on standardized testing as a measure of school quality is drawing comparatively little support from the public. A majority of Americans continue to oppose using public funds to send students to private schools. And if the question is expanded to include religious schools as an option, voucher support declines and the public’s opposition rises to 61 percent.
“These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates – from supporting vouchers to emphasizing high-stakes tests – are out of step with parents’ main concern: They want their children prepared for life and career after they complete high school,” said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International.
According to the 2017 survey, a vast 82 percent of respondents support job or career skills classes even if it means some students might spend less time on traditional academics. Some 86 percent said schools should offer certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment upon graduation, and 82 percent see technology and engineering classes as extremely or very important elements of school quality.
Eighty-two percent of those polled deemed it highly important for schools to develop the interpersonal skills of students. Indeed, 39 percent of the respondents said it was “extremely important” to develop skills like teamwork and persistence, compared to just 13 percent who consider standardized test scores an extremely important indicator of school quality.
“Taken as a whole, the American public is saying it thinks public education has tilted too far in pushing or emphasizing academics to the detriment of vocational or career skills classes,”
Starr added. “They support the academic mission but they also want local schools to position students for their working lives after school, including programs to develop interpersonal skills.”
Here are additional findings, some reflecting debates going on across the nation:
- The current emphasis on vouchers among federal policymakers seems misplaced. More Americans continue to oppose than favor using public funds to send students to private school (52 percent to 39 percent). And if the question includes the option of vouchers for religious schools, the opposition rises to 61 percent.
- While only 54 percent of public school parents say they would keep their child in public school if they were offered public funds for a private or religious school, the number who would stick with a public school swells to 72 percent if only half the tuition is covered.
- Seventy percent of parents, including equal numbers of whites and nonwhites, say they’d prefer to have their child in a racially diverse school. But there’s a limit to what parents are willing to do to make that happen. Only one-quarter of parents say they’d like their child to attend a racially diverse school and would be willing to take on a longer commute to do it.
- Standardized testing enjoys little public support. Every other potential quality metric tested in the survey far surpassed standardized testing as a measure of school quality, including the availability of extracurricular activities, art and music classes, advanced academic classes, technology and engineering classes, and programs to develop interpersonal skills.
- As has been the case for decades, Americans like their local schools even if they give U.S. education overall a lower grade. In fact, the proportion of Americans who gave their community schools an “A” grade in 2017 is the highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling.
- Americans strongly support the idea of schools stepping in to provide mental health services and after-school programs if students don’t have access to them somewhere else. Eighty-seven percent support the provision of mental health services and 92 percent back the provision of after-school programs. Three-quarters of the respondents say schools are justified in asking for more public money to provide these and other such wraparound services.
“The public wants balance,” Starr concluded. “There is a clear perception that the education community’s emphasis on academics has gone too far, and Americans want a course correction.”
In addition to the national report, PDK also did companion surveys of adults in New York and Georgia in 2017. Those results are covered in separate reports.
PDK has surveyed the American public every year since 1969 to assess public opinion about public schools. The 2017 survey was conducted by Langer Research Associates of New York City. It is based on a random, representative 50-state sample of 1,588 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone – in English or Spanish – in May of this year. The margin of sampling error for the phone survey is ±3.5 percentage points for the full sample, including the design effect. Error margins are larger for subgroups such as parents of school-age children. Additional poll data are available at www.pdkpoll.org.
PDK International, the publisher of Kappan magazine, is a global network of education professionals that provides learning opportunities, targeted networking and relevant research to its members, deepening their expertise and ultimately helping them achieve better results in their work.
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