Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Americans Speak out Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening? the 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Americans Speak out Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening? the 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools

Article excerpt

What an extraordinary year this has been for our nation. We're experiencing an economic downturn the likes of which we have not seen for almost 80 years; we've witnessed the election of the first minority president and Democratic Party control of the White House and both houses of Congress; and we held our breath as venerated financial institutions and major manufacturers collapsed or teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Like it or not, all of these events affect our everyday lives. And with these major changes come changes in public attitudes about a variety of issues--including education.

The annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is unique because it's not an advocacy poll, but rather a thoughtful study of Americans' current perceptions of their public schools. Each year, the poll includes new questions about such emerging issues as the recent economic stimulus legislation and its impact locally on the schools. At the same time, the survey draws from previously asked questions to carefully gauge shifts in public opinion.

Q. What do you think are the biggest problems that the public schools of your community must deal with?

A. For the 10th consecutive year, the public thinks lack of funding is the biggest problem facing the schools.

BEHIND THE SCENES

The topics for this year's poll were identified by a diverse and bipartisan group of education experts assembled in February (see page 23). They debated the issues and then selected topics. This year, the following topics surfaced:

* Grading our schools

* No Child Left Behind

* Charter schools

* Teachers

* Dropouts

* Early childhood/preschool

* Innovation--Moving in the right direction

* Economic stimulus

* Schools and the news media

With this PDK/Gallup poll report, you see every question verbatim as it was asked. That enables you to make your own interpretations--to arrive at your own conclusions of how Americans perceive their public schools.

GRADING OUR SCHOOLS

In every annual PDK/Gallup poll since 1969, the first question we ask Americans is to describe the biggest problem facing public schools in their community. We ask this as an open-ended question--no prompts are provided to respondents--and we ask it first so responses aren't biased by other questions.

That question is followed by three questions asking Americans to give a letter grade to public schools in general, A through Fail. We ask all Americans to grade schools in their community. Then we ask parents to grade the school their oldest child attends. Finally, we ask all Americans to grade the nation's schools as a whole.

A new question introduced this year asks Americans, using the same grading scale, to rate President Barack Obama's performance in support of public schools during his first six months in office. We then brought back a question asking Americans if they believe schools are better or worse today than when they attended school

TABLE 1. What do you think are the biggest problems that the public
schools of your community must deal with?

                            National       Public school
                             totals          parents

                       '09    '08     '07  '09  '08  '07
                        %      %       %    %    %    %

Lack of funding         32     17     22   30   19   26
Lack of discipline      10     10     10    8    3    5
Overcrowding             9      6      7   10   11    9
Drugs                    5      4      4    5    4    3
Fighting                 4      6      6    6    8    8
Lack of standards        3      3      4    2    2    4
Lack of good teachers    3      4      5    2    3    4

TABLE 2. Students are often given the grades A, B, C, D, and Fail to
denote the quality of their work. … 
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