WE ARE told that education is now the number-one priority on the political agenda at the federal and state levels. That being the case, policy makers should be interested in the fact that public approval of the public schools, as measured by the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, is at its highest level in the poll's 33-year history.
The growing confidence in the public schools is probably one of the reasons why support for allowing parents and students to choose private schools to attend at public expense continues to decline. At the same time, that confidence almost certainly contributes to the overwhelming belief that improvement in American education should come from reform within the existing public school system.
These findings are significant in that they suggest that programs and policies built around the idea that the public schools are in disfavor are likely to fail, while those built on the idea that the task is to improve the schools we now have are more likely to succeed. In truth, however, while the public is now speaking with a somewhat stronger voice, the message is the same one it has been sending for years.
Public school bashing has been the favorite sport of the politicians and the media for a long time. Plans for breaking the "public school monopoly" have been announced with great fanfare. Vouchers, tuition tax credits, tuition scholarships, schools chartered by nonschool agencies, home schooling, and so on have all been touted as ideas for bringing relief to children "trapped in a monopolistic public school system." And, through all of this, the "trapped" public has maintained its strong support for the public schools.
The figures in this year's poll are worth repeating: 51% of the American public, 62% of all public school parents, and 68% of public school parents grading the school their oldest child attends give their schools a grade of A or B. …