Poll: Americans' Grade for Obama Education Policy Is Slipping

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Just 34 percent of Americans give the president an A or B, compared with 45 percent a year ago, a new survey on education says. But the poll also shows more nuanced views of education policy.

Americans' support for President Obama's education agenda is slipping, a new poll indicates.

Just 34 percent of Americans give the president a grade of A or B in his support of public schools, compared with 45 percent a year ago, according to the survey of public opinion on education, conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) and Gallup. Support was down among Democrats and independents as well as Republicans.

But the survey, released Wednesday, also shows a more nuanced view of how the public views America's schools and education policy. Support is growing for ideas like charter schools and merit pay for teachers, which are being pushed by the administration. But support is slim for the sort of drastic school-turnaround strategies sometimes favored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. When asked about the best way to deal with a poorly performing school in their community, more than half of respondents said that the school should remain open with the existing staff and get more support.

"If I were working at the [Education] Department, I would seriously rethink [the turnaround strategy]," says William Bushaw, executive director of PDK, referring to the department's support of plans in which the principal and much of the staff at a failing school is fired. "Americans just don't want Washington to get that far into their local affairs."

Controversial policies like merit pay, on the other hand, are getting considerably more support from the public, with 71 percent of Americans saying that teachers should be paid based on the quality of their work rather than on a standard scale. Almost 3 in 4 believe that teacher pay should be at least somewhat tied to student achievement.

"I think we all need to recognize that the current system by which we pay teachers is broken," Mr. Bushaw says.

The poll also revealed a growing consensus that teaching is what matters most in a school, as well as a broad respect for the profession.

By a wide margin, respondents said the most important national education priority is to improve the quality of teachers, ahead of developing better standards, turning around the lowest-performing schools, and creating better tests.

"That's right on track with the research that shows that the No. 1 thing that impacts student achievement is the quality of a student's teacher," says Jon Schnur, co-founder and CEO of New Leaders for New Schools, which is based in New York. …