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Americans' Views of Public Schools Still Far Worse Than Parents'

Americans' Views of Public Schools Still Far Worse Than Parents'

by Shane J. Lopez

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans continue to believe their local schools are performing well, but that the nation's schools are performing poorly. More than three-quarters of public school parents (77%) give their child's school an "A" or "B," while 18% of all Americans grade the nation's public schools that well.

1985-2010 Trend: The Public's Views on American Schools, Local and National

Each year, Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa, a professional association for educators, ask parents of school-aged children who attend public schools to grade the quality of their own child's school. They also ask a broader sample of Americans to grade their local public schools more generally, as well as the nation's public schools. U.S. parents give the highest grades to their own child's school, while Americans rate their local schools better than they rate public schools in the nation as a whole. With parents again this year giving their own child's school high marks and Americans again giving the nation's public schools low marks, a large gap continues to exist between parents' perceptions of local schools and public perceptions of the national public education system.

Grading Our Children's Schools

One-third of this year's survey respondents identified themselves as parents of school-aged children who attend public schools. These parents were asked a series of questions about the quality of their oldest child's education. Providing encouraging news for public schools, more than three-quarters of parents (77%) give their own child's school an "A" or a "B," up from 71% in 1985.

Using the A, B, C, D, and FAIL Scale, What Grade Would You Give the School Your Oldest Child Attends? Asked of Public School Parents

Grading Local Schools

Among all respondents, regardless of whether they are parents of a school-aged child who attends a public school, most consider schools in their local communities to be average or above, with 33% giving a grade of C, 38% a B, and 11% an A. Taking both "A" and "B" grades into consideration, this view of local schools has improved a little over the decades, with a dip in 1980 and a high point in 2010.

1975-2010 Trend: What Grade Would You Give the Public Schools Here -- A, B, C, D, or FAIL?

Grading the Public Education System

Americans have graded America's public education system a C or below for the 25 years PDK/Gallup has been asking about it. Furthermore, Gallup trends show Americans' views of public education souring since 1985. Twenty-five years ago, 58% of respondents gave public education a grade of C or lower, compared with 79% now.

1985-2010 Trend: What Grade Would You Give the Public Schools Nationally -- A, B, C, D, or FAIL?

Improving America's Schools

There is room for improvement in all schools, and additional questions in the PDK/Gallup poll provide insight into how to make this happen. First, Americans generally believe that the quality of educational outcomes relates to the amount of money devoted to public education. Sixty-seven percent of respondents say the amount of money spent on a public school student's education affects the quality of his or her education "a great deal" or "quite a lot." Second, when Americans were specifically asked an open-ended question about what schools could do to earn an "A," "improve the quality of teaching" was the most frequent response, given by 34% of respondents. National efforts from the public and private sector to increase teacher quality appear to be in line with the public's view of what is needed to make schools better.

Read the full results of the 42nd annual 2010 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Survey Methods

Results for this PDK/Gallup poll are based on a panel study involving telephone interviews with 1,008 adults nationally, aged 18 and older, conducted June 4-28, 2010. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random sampling methods. The sample included an oversample of Panel members who reported having a child aged 5 to 18 in the household.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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