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September 3, 2014

On September 1, 2014, Phi Delta Kappan (PDK)/Gallup released their 46th annual poll on public education. Those polled expressed the belief that, "By far, lack of financial support continues to be the No. 1 challenge facing public schools in America."

The poll is a scientifically based survey of 1,001 Americans 18 years and older. Because it is conducted annually and revisits many questions asked in prior years, the poll illuminates how American opinion about education changes or stays the same over time.

The first half of the poll covers public perceptions of Common Core, Testing, Governance, International Comparisons, and "School Choice." Below are some of the major findings. An additional release will be available in October. For the entire text of the first release, see PDK/Gallup Poll.

Thanks to CORAS (Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools) for this summary of the poll results:

Common Core: 60% of Americans oppose requiring teachers in their community to use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach, with opposition among Republicans much higher than Democrats. For the 33% of Americans who favor the Common Core, the most important reason is because it will help more students learn what they need to know regardless of where they go to school. For the 60% of Americans who oppose using the Common Core, their most important reason is that it will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best.

Student Testing: Just over half (54%) of Americans said standardized tests aren't helpful to teachers, and parents feel even more strongly about this. This belief is held uniformly regardless of political affiliation. While most Americans (68%) are skeptical that standardized tests help teachers, they support using them to evaluate student achievement or to guide decisions about student placement, particularly to award college credit such as through Advanced Placement exams.

International Comparisons of Achievement: 70% of Americans don't remember reading or hearing about the PISA test scores in December 2013. Though Americans were unaware of the most recent release of international comparisons, half said they believed U.S. students ranked lower than students in other nations, and another 46% believed they ranked in the middle. Just 3% believed U.S. students ranked higher than students in other nations. (U.S. students, on average, posted average results in science and reading and ranked below average results in math.) About three of four Americans agree that  understanding how students are taught in other countries could help improve schools in their community, but they're less certain that international test comparisons are important in helping improve U.S. schools, and they're unconvinced that test scores used for international comparisons accurately measure student achievement across nations.

Governance, Quality and Challenges: Most Americans believe the local school board should have the greatest influence in deciding what's taught in the public schools, an increase from the last time we asked this question in 2007. This is alongside a decline in the percentage of Americans who support the federal government's influence. Americans graded President Barack Obama's performance in support of public schools as the lowest recorded since he became president in 2009 and significantly lower this year compared to 2013.

Those polled expressed the belief that, "By far, lack of financial support continues to be the No. 1 challenge facing public schools in America." Other challenges most often mentioned were concerns about curriculum standards, student discipline, and getting and keeping good teachers.

50% of Americans gave the schools in their communities either an A or B, with parents awarding local schools even higher marks. These grades have remained consistent over the last few years. At the same time, Americans give the nation's schools significantly lower grades with more than 80% assigning the nation's schools a C or lower grade. Parents continue to give high grades to the schools attended by their oldest child, although one-third of parents assign their local schools a C or lower grade.

Vouchers and Charters: Using our legacy public charter school question, seven of 10 Americans favor the idea of charter schools, similar to approval ratings during the past several years. However, the percentage supporting public charter schools declined when we removed an explanation of charter schools from the question. More than half of Americans believe students receive a better education at public charter schools than at other public schools, while parents were split about evenly on this question. Two-thirds of Americans continue to oppose public school vouchers.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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