Survey: No agreement on role of public schools, but preference for career-tech over tougher academics

Georgia saw a major gain in its high school graduation rate.

The Georgia General Assembly has long appeared conflicted on the role of public education. State lawmakers were among the earliest in the country to begin deriding public schools as “government schools” as a means to promote school choice. At the same time it proclaimed support of Georgia’s public education system and its teachers, the Legislature spent a lot of time and money plotting escape routes out of the schools.

That ambivalence has spread to the public, according to the latest results from the annual Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

The responses underscore the challenges facing public schools today, which are under pressure to produce more college-bound graduates. But the survey finds greater endorsement of schools focusing on career-technical or skills-based classes rather than more honors or advanced academic classes.

The public tilt toward career-tech is interesting because a college degree remains valuable currency in terms of lifelong earnings and quality of life. I wonder if the intense media focus on soaring college costs has made parents more skeptical of the value of a college degree.

What do you think?

Here is the official summary:

There is no consensus within the American public about the role of the nation’s public schools, with fewer than half saying that academic achievement should be emphasized instead of preparing students for work or to be good citizens, a new survey shows.

Only 45 percent of the adults responding to the annual survey say the main goal of public education should be preparing students academically. Indeed, when given a direct choice, 68 percent said it was better for their local public schools to have more career-technical or skills-based classes than more honors or advanced academic classes.

By an even bigger majority, the public also says that when a public school is failing, the best approach is replacing the teachers and staff while keeping the school itself open. The survey further found school administrators could improve their schools’ standing with the public if they did a better job of communicating with parents and provided more opportunities for input.

Those and many other educational issues were highlighted today with the release of the 48th annual edition of the Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Previously the PDK/Gallup poll, the survey now is produced for the association by Langer Research Associates of New York.

“The American public does not agree on a single purpose for public education,” noted Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International. “And that’s despite the emphasis on academic achievement of the past 16 years. This tells me that the standards and test-based reforms of the Bush and Obama administrations have addressed only part of what the public wants.”

In general, in what has been a defining trend for decades, the American public gave good marks to their own local schools in 2016. Forty-eight percent give their local schools an “A” or “B” grade compared to just 24 percent for public schools nationally. Within those totals, socioeconomic status played a big role: 57 percent of Americans with an annual household income over $100,000 gave their local schools an “A” or “B” compared with 42 percent of those making less than $50,000 a year.

Among other findings, some reflecting contentious debate:

•By the most lopsided result in the survey, the public by 84 percent to 14 percent says that when a public school has been failing for several years, the best response is to keep the school open but replace the teachers or administrators in the building.

•The public splits 48 percent to 46 percent when asked whether charter schools should meet the same educational standards as other public schools or set their own.

•The public divides 43 percent to 43 percent on whether schools should use more traditional teaching and less technology or more technology and less traditional teaching.

•A clear majority – 59 percent to 37 percent – opposes allowing public school parents to excuse their children from standardized testing.

•It’s a closer call as to whether Americans support or oppose raising property taxes to try to improve the public schools – 53 percent in favor compared to 45 percent opposed. Another question found broad skepticism that higher spending would achieve its goals, even though 2016 marked the 15th year in a row that a plurality of Americans cited a lack of money as the top problem facing local schools.

The divide over what public schools should be trying to achieve has been growing for a number of years, Starr said. While 45 percent of respondents said the main goal of public education should be to prepare students academically, 51 percent said the focus either should be on preparing students for work (25 percent) or preparing them to be good citizens (26 percent). When asked about competing ways to improve public schools, 68 percent supported the addition of more vocational and career classes as opposed to more honors or advanced academic classes.

“There’s a real question today about education’s return on investment,” Starr noted. “While we know that a college degree is essential in today’s economy, parents and the public want to see a clearer connection between the public school system and the world of work. To build community support for change, school leaders can’t neglect the demands of federal and state accountability, but leaders must remember that they serve their communities first.”

The survey responses offer some clear guidance to school administrators who want to improve the standing of their local schools. Ratings for local school are far higher among parents who think their schools communicate with them effectively and provide frequent opportunities for their input. But in many cases, the parents say that’s not happening.

Fewer than half of parents (47 percent) say their local school does a good job of providing opportunities for their input. And a substantial four in 10 say their school does not offer enough opportunities for them to “visit and see what’s going on.”

There’s also some variation in the degree to which Americans describe various objectives as important and how well they think their local schools are meeting those objectives. For example, 90 percent of parents say it’s “extremely” or “very” important for schools to help students develop good work habits, but only 31 percent say their schools do an excellent or very good job of accomplishing that objective. Similarly, 82 percent consider it extremely or very important that schools prepare students to think critically across subject areas, but only 29 percent think that’s happening.

“Not surprisingly, satisfaction and involvement go hand in hand,” the survey concludes. “Parents who rate their schools positively on keeping them informed, inviting them to visit, offering them opportunities to provide input and showing interest in their input are more apt to feel involved with their child’s school overall.”

PDK has surveyed the American public every year since 1969 to assess public opinion about public schools. The 2016 survey is based on a random, representative 50-state sample of 1,221 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone — in English or Spanish — in April and May of this year. Additional poll data are available here. 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-aged children.

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.

Reader Comments 0

33 comments
EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Writing in response to the PDK Poll released today, education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Dr. Diane Ravitch, offers in PDK Annual Poll: Same Old, Same Old:

“Just to be clear, the reason that public schools were first established and treated as a community responsibility was to prepare good citizens to sustain our society into the future. There are many subdivisions under the goal of preparing to be good citizens, which would include the academic skills needed to read, write, think critically, be informed about issues in science and history, and be in good health. Somehow, the central purpose has been lowered in status. When people lose sight of the central purpose of education, then they fall prey to bogus claims about choice, charters, and vouchers, about which can do a better job of teaching academic skills or career skills. We have public schools as a public responsibility to teach young people to become active and informed citizens. All the rest follows.”

Indeed, all the rest follows.  And, without question, a focus on any “subdivisions under the goal of preparing [children] to be good citizens” is but the simplistic, reductive, analytical paradigm working to the detriment of there being “a community responsibility to prepare good citizens to sustain our society into the future.”  This is why, for example, the Atlanta superintendent’s political-driven mission for APS is so limited and so troubling to the complex, encompassing, synthetical paradigm.

Dr. Ravtich goes on:

“In reading through the inconclusive public opinion on almost every subject, one question caught my attention because of its wording:

“Q. Charter schools are public schools that are run without many of the state regulations placed on other public schools. Do you think it’s better for charter schools to meet the same educational standards as other public schools or to set their own educational standards?

“The answer was a split decision. 48% said meet the same standards, 46% said no.

“The question assumes that charter schools are public schools.

“But charter schools are NOT public schools. Whenever charter operators are sued, their defense is that they are not public schools. They are privately managed schools that receive public funding. As the NLRB ruled last week, and as federal courts have ruled, charter schools are not held to the same standards as public schools because they are NOT "state actors." Public schools are state actors.”

Will choice and charter school proponents ever get it?

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

Maureen, I like your blog, but you might be out of touch. You're surprised about ctea vs. Adv. College? Could parents be getting wise to the trap? You choose: MBA or Bachelors with 15k student loan debt or license for plumber, electrician, or auto mechanic for 3k at most. Your college graduate gets laid off while skilled craftsmen are in high demand. Over time who has more financial success? Remember, not everyone can be an engineer or doctor. Most college degrees are not money makers compared to skilled ctae or licenced labor workers. IMO

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

Another key point in the story: The unemployment rate among college graduates ages 25 to 34 is just 2 percent, even with the many stories you hear about out-of-work college graduates. They’re not generally working in menial jobs, either. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record high. It’s large enough, over a lifetime, to cover many times over the almost $20,000 in student debt that an average graduate has, notes the education researcher Sandy Baum. College graduates are also healthier, happier, more likely to remain married, more likely to be engaged parents and more likely to vote, research has found. Only about a third of young adults today receive a bachelor’s degree. The new research confirms that many more teenagers have the ability to do so — and would benefit from it. “It’s genuinely destructive to give people the message that we’re overinvesting in college, that we’re in a college-debt bubble, that you’ll end up as an unemployed ethnomusicologist with $200,000 in debt working at Starbucks,” Mr. Autor, the M.I.T. economist, said. “That’s not a message you would want to give to anyone you know who has kids.”

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

I just think of how happy my electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and hvac reps are when I have to cut them a check. The part is usually cheap compared to the cost of labor. And they have a good paying job that will never be downsized, no 20k debt, and live as well as an MBA grad. I see what you're looking at.

Annette Laing
Annette Laing

And who would replace all those teachers, I wonder? Educated people aren't exactly lining up to teach in Georgia. And as for those who advocate job training ( much of which will soon be obsolete) over a genuine liberal arts education ( liberal arts, contrary to popular perception, includes science)? That's simply evidence that we need better education so that people are equipped to understand what education is. Where to start? Oy.

Carol Sheridan Dial
Carol Sheridan Dial

That's right, blame the teachers. Don't blame parents for hovering, lazy, defiant students or unsupportive administrators.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

As with just about any product or service in America, competition is providing a constant, driving force for schools to improve.   Just as that is what causes companies to improve.   We all inherently know that our greatest power as consumers is the ability to take our business (and the money) elsewhere.  that's what causes companies to treat us well.


As long as the eduacracy has a monopoly on our education dollars, they will continue to pay lip service to improving student's lives, while in actuality just continuing to provide more and more jobs to the central office staff and the bureaucracy.  


Companies in communist countries that are "govt owned" and have no competition , deliver awful service and product.  That's been proven every time its tried.


We need to stop allowing the eduacracy monopoly to get away with the same thing here.

redweather
redweather

@dcdcdc There is little if any evidence that competition in education is driving anything.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@redweather @dcdcdc Right....because none of our Universities/colleges ever have to compete for students (and thus funding).   Those same universities are of course considered among the best in the world.


Do you think for yourself?  Or just parrot eduacracy talking points?

Astropig
Astropig

@dcdcdc @redweather


"Do you think for yourself?  Or just parrot eduacracy talking points?"


If you are ever Red's "Secret Santa", be sure to get him a box of crackers and a cuttlebone.

testerbill
testerbill

There are many cases where charter schools fail, usually because they were started as profit centers rather than education centers.  They need to be evaluated just as traditional public schools.  And if it is believed that teachers are why students don't succeed, then we need to be more selective in who is hired to teach, and have more flexibility in assigning teachers to schools.  And better pay might attract better teachers.

Astropig
Astropig

@testerbill


This^^ is why the charter debate is so acrimonious.The teachers unions have put out a false narrative about public charter schools and their followers just regurgitate that narrative even though they know better.If they don't know better,then they are too lazy to be effective teachers and should find another line of work.



By law, charter schools cannot be run for profit.They are established and governed by a non profit board.



redweather
redweather

@Astropig @testerbill They can't be run for profit but many charter school operators have found devious ways to divert funds intended for education into their pockets.

class80olddog
class80olddog

You mean like traditional central office personnel?

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog But they sell themselves as being so different, don't they? That's the problem; they aren't different, and they're a lot less accountable.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @class80olddog


I disagree.The problem is that status quo schools can fritter away money and no power on earth can shut them down.Charters are accountable to parents.Zip code schools are seemingly accountable to no one in particular.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The goal of our educational system should be to educate the students to their highest reasonable potential. That may be college or it may be vocational. It strikes me as funny that Maureen thinks all students should be college educated just because they make more money. A student could become a surgeon and make high wages and have good job security, but I don't see a push to make all students become doctors. When a person graduated high school, though, they should possess mimimal skills- and that is not happening. The GHSGT used to weed out some, but no more.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I can see our company operating like schools and CC: we have high quality standards, we tested your product and it was way out of spec but we shipped it to you anyway. Think our customers would be happy?

redweather
redweather

It strikes me as a false choice to ask survey respondents whether the main goal of a public school education is to prepare students academically, to prepare them for work, or to prepare them to be good citizens.

Preparing them academically will prepare them for work as well as to be good citizens.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The answer to that question should be "yes".

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@redweather  Roughly 30% of Americans have college degrees.  Pushing a college prep only path means a lot of those other 70% can't even get a high school diploma.

Astropig
Astropig

 "At the same time it proclaimed support of Georgia’s public education system and its teachers, the Legislature spent a lot of time and money plotting escape routes out of the schools."


Possibly because the public (while we're dissecting polls) has stated emphatically that it wants more choice? Think that has anything to do with it?


Politicians go to where the votes are,whether the issue is education or what-have-you.In our system of government,the people eventually get what they want,whether a vocal minority likes it or not.That's why I can't fathom why public school educrats don't just bite the bullet and realize what is obvious to everybody else:Their future will be defined by parental empowerment,education reform and school choice.

BleachBit
BleachBit

Contrary to the introduction to this article, there is no conflict at all between public education and school choice. 

Public charter schools provide both -- though in the face of opposition from teachers' union bosses who see parental choice as a long-term threat to union revenues. Which end up in Democrat Party coffers at election time.


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Here in Georgia, we KNOW one thing:  Traditional public education is for "those" people's kids, not MINE.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Traditional schools want to trap as many students as possible in their schools ( for the money). That is why they fight so hard against charter schools, even when there are long waiting lists of parents who want their kids out of traditional schools.

JohnB
JohnB

Just would like to know where the $100,000 came from. Taxpayers? Methinks thou protest too much.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Lots of reaction today to the PDK results. Wanted to share part of the memo from Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. See full memo http://forstudentsuccess.org/pdk-poll-common-core-opinion/

Results from Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International’s annual public opinion poll make clear parents support—and expect—rigorous education standards that emphasize critical thinking and real-world application. More than four out of five parents believe it is “extremely” or “very” important for schools to prepare their kids to think critically across subject areas, and just seven percent think academic expectations are set too high.

Viewed with the findings from an annual Education Next survey released earlier this month—which show solid support for high academic standards—the polling sends a clear message to state policymakers: Keep the bar high for all students.

When states began to implement rigorous, high academic guidelines in math and English established through the Common Core State Standards, they did so based on principle, not brand. The commitment of the Governor, state education leaders and educators was driven by the fundamental belief that high expectations, coupled with meaningful assessments, would improve student outcomes.

Now, six years later, the discussion has come full circle. States have weighed the evidence, moved past semantics and doubled down on their pledge to raise classroom expectations. In that regard, Common Core has achieved its purpose. Most states have implemented high standards, matched those expectations with high-quality assessments, and, in doing so, established greater comparability than ever before. In fact, only Oklahoma has reverted back to inferior academic standards.

The “opt-out” movement may have gathered a lot of attention over the past two years, but by and large parents aren’t buying it. While 42 percent in the poll support the option to excuse their kids from standardized tests, there is no clear indication that any of these parents would choose to do so. In fact, the majority (59 percent according to PDK, 70 percent according to Education Next) actually oppose opting out of annual state assessments. Support for high-quality assessment peaks even higher among black respondents, according to the PDK poll, with 67 percent opposing opt-out efforts.

Even though the public recognizes the value of high-quality assessments, some state and local leaders have sought to appease critics by pursing independent tests. That’s proven a costly political calculation. Overwhelmingly, states that took the “go it alone” path have incurred significant expenses and testing disruptions, and are very likely to end up with weaker exams. The PDK poll, and others like it, reaffirms that education officials have every reason to avoid political theatre and stand up for honest, high-quality assessments.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Keep the bar high", he says. Fine, then throw the ones who do not make it over the bar out of the competition. What is the purpose of having rigorous CC standards and then not enforcing them? Are they just for show?