Poll: Americans favor Obama’s school reforms

Most Americans want to change No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and they favor several education reforms backed by the Obama administration, such as charter schools and teacher merit pay, a new survey finds.

Every year since 1969, Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International, a global association of education professionals, and Gallup have created a poll to examine how the country views its educational system. This year, because of the economic downturn, the election of President Obama, and Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the poll has blended its customary questions with questions surrounding current issues, such as the stimulus legislation and its impact on local schools.

“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,” says the report, titled “Americans Speak Out: Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening?”

The topics for this year’s poll were created by a bipartisan group of education experts in February. More than 1,000 randomly sampled and diverse households were polled via telephone, with an oversample of parents with school-aged children. The poll was conducted between June 2 and June 24.

Grading schools, NCLB, and charter schools

In every PDK/Gallup poll conducted since its inception, the first question asked is to describe the “biggest problem facing public schools” in the community. With no prompts provided, respondents have cited funding as the biggest problem since 2000. This year, 32 percent of respondents said funding–the highest number ever recorded.

And while more than 50 percent of Americans gave the schools in their community either an A or a B when asked to grade their schools on an A to F scale, grades given to the nation’s schools as a whole were significantly lower, with fewer than 20 percent giving schools nationwide an A or B.

“This continues a long-standing difference, suggesting that Americans like the schools they know but are much less positive about public education in general,” says the report. “Public school reformers fear that the results show that Americans are overly satisfied with the schools in their community and, consequently, less open to reform efforts.”

“The reasons for this disconnect are simple,” says Gerald Bracey, a PDK columnist and author of Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. “Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957.”

Bracey says the news media, many education advocacy groups, and even President Obama offer negative views about the current state of American education, which influence public opinion. “On the other hand,” says Bracey, “parents use other sources and resources for information about their local schools: teachers, administrators, friends, neighbors, newsletters, PTAs, and their kids themselves; and they’re in a much better position to observe what’s actually happening in American schools.”

Byron Garrett, chief executive officer of the National PTA, believes the disconnect can be solved if the nation adopts Common Core Standards and parents and educators partner “to provide a low-cost, high-impact solution to improve student success.” That way, every school can be held to the same standard, he says.

According to the poll, common standards might be a good idea, because Americans support testing via a single national test, rather than letting each state use its own test–an opinion held by Republicans and Democrats alike.