It’s well-known that the American people generally have a more favorable opinion of institutions when viewed through a local, as opposed to a state or national, prism. Public schools are no exception. Most individuals give their neighborhood schools high marks but have a more negative assessment of the nation’s schools overall. A couple of recent polls reveal this dynamic, with one suggesting the gap in perceptions may be narrowing.
According to the recent PDK International survey, the percentage of Americans who give their community’s public schools an ‘A’ is at its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling. Sixty-two percent of public school parents give public schools in their own communities an A or B grade (The percentage dips to 45% with nonparents). When parents grade their own child’s school, grades improve even more. But the PDK poll also found that only 24 percent give public schools nationally the same grade.
“The 25-point gap between ratings of schools in one’s own community and schools nationally is consistent with more than three decades of PDK poll results,” the report noted. “Awareness of a few poor schools can diminish the ratings of all schools together, driving down scores nationally while leaving local scores far better.”
New Gallup surveys also reveal a gap in local and national perceptions of public schools. Nearly half of U.S. adults (47%) said they are completely or somewhat satisfied with the quality of education for K-12 students – although that’s a jump of four percentage points from 2016.
When parents were asked about their child’s education specifically, 79% said they are completely or somewhat satisfied, with only 21% saying they are not.
Another recent Gallup poll revealed that 39% of the public has “confidence” in the nation’s public schools, which represents an improvement over 2016, when only 30% expressed confidence in the system – the largest year-over-year positive change for schools in Gallup’s survey.
What explains the uptick in these results? The Gallup report noted that numbers for both Democrats and Republicans increased in both surveys (a bigger jump among Republicans, however), so perhaps it can be attributed in part by general optimism on the part of GOP voters since the 2016 election. But other factors are also in play.
The proportion of Americans who give their community’s public schools an A grade is its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling.
Gallup suggests that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the bipartisan measure signed into law by President Obama in December 2015 that replaces the widely unpopular No Child Left Behind, is also having an effect. ESSA reduces the amount of federally mandated testing and ensures that educators are part of decisions about teaching and learning.
Nonetheless, the persistent media coverage of charter schools and voucher proposals, according to the Gallup report, “may contribute to a more negative view of the U.S. education landscape, while parents tend to see their own school’s influence at home and view its effects more approvingly.”
In fact, very little coverage is devoted to the issue that the majority of Americans consistently cite as the biggest problem facing schools: lack of funding, according to the PDK survey. Concerns over funding cut across socioeconomic groups, including those who give their neighborhood schools higher marks.
“Funding is not a problem exclusive to less well-regarded schools,” the PDK report noted. “Twenty percent of those who give A grades to schools in their community cite funding as a top problem, as do 26% of those who give B’s and 23% of those who give their schools C’s and D’s.”