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Near Record-Low Confidence in U.S. Public Schools

Near Record-Low Confidence in U.S. Public Schools

by Lymari Morales

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans continue to express near record-low confidence in U.S. public schools -- holding in the range seen throughout the past few years of tumult for the U.S. economy and state budgets. The 34% who say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools is unchanged from last year and statistically similar to what Gallup has found since 2005.


The findings are from Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions, conducted June 9-12. Nearly all institutions -- including public schools -- have seen historically low confidence in recent years. This year brought little improvement beyond a slight uptick in confidence in newspapers and television news. Public schools currently rank in the middle of the pack of institutions tested -- 8th out of 16 -- in the general range of the presidency, U.S. Supreme Court, and medical system. The current rating is down significantly when compared with confidence levels seen throughout the 1970s and at points in the late 1980s, when about half or more Americans expressed confidence in U.S. public schools.

While low, the steady nature of the confidence Americans have placed in public schools in recent years is noteworthy considering the budget challenges U.S. states have faced over this period. At least 34 states and the District of Columbia have cut funding for K-12 schools and other education programs since the recession began, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Many school systems got a lifeline in 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directed about $100 billion to help fund public education and save teachers' jobs. Americans' confidence in U.S. public schools did trend somewhat higher that year, to 38%, but not enough to be statistically meaningful. Now, with stimulus funding running out this year, many education programs and jobs are again at risk.

Young, Less Educated Most Confident in U.S. Public Schools

The youngest U.S. adults -- perhaps those with the most recent direct experience with the nation's public schools -- express slightly more confidence in public schools than do older Americans. Those with a college degree or some college education are less confident than those with a high school education or less. Democrats and liberals tend to express more confidence than Republicans and conservatives. The South and Midwest also fare better than the East and West.



Americans' already low confidence in U.S. public schools may be at risk of tumbling further if ongoing budget challenges trigger more headlines about states cutting back on education. While confidence in public schools largely held steady through the recession, it is clear that public education has fallen in Americans' eyes over the past two decades -- and that it will take significant effort to restore that confidence. Americans tend to rate local public schools, and their children's own school, better than the nation's schools as a whole, and local schools have trended in a more positive direction in recent years. This underscores that every school and educator plays a role in how Americans view public education. Further, since education is a key part of the institutions and infrastructure component of a society's well-being, improvements have the opportunity to bolster the productivity and growth of every U.S. state and city.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 9-12, 2011, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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