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Parents, Americans Much More Positive About Local Schools

Parents, Americans Much More Positive About Local Schools

by Shane J. Lopez

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans, and parents in particular, evaluate their community schools more positively than in any year since Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) and Gallup started asking Americans to grade local schools in 1984. An all-time high of 37% of parents give their child's school an A grade, up sharply from 19% in 2007. Just 1% of parents assign a failing grade to their child's school.

2007-2011 Trend: The Public's Views of Local U.S. Schools -- Percentage Giving an A Grade

The percentage of Americans giving the schools in their community an A is also the highest on record, at 14%. Only 5% of Americans consider their community schools to be failing. Younger Americans (aged 18 to 39) give better grades to local schools than older Americans (aged 40 and older).

Americans continue to give the nation's schools much lower grades than the local schools, as they have since 1984. Only 1% give the nation's schools an A. Furthermore, the overall percentages of A's and B's have declined since 2008, while the percentages of D's and failing grades are increasing, in contrast to the increasingly positive evaluations of local schools.

2007-2011 Trend: How about the public schools in the nation as a whole? What grade would you give the public schools nationally -- A, B, C, D, or Fail?

To better understand the disparity between how Americans grade their community schools versus how they grade the nation's schools, Gallup described the trend (local schools being rated more positively than nation's schools) to respondents and then asked, "Why do you think that is?" Respondents stated that knowledge about the local schools (43%) and pride in their community (17%) influenced Americans' grades. Some (6%) said Americans assigned low grades for the nation's schools based on negative media information. A relatively large percentage of Americans (15%) either couldn't or wouldn't answer the question.

Last year, Gallup asked Americans, "What are the main things a school has to do before it can earn an A?" Thirty-four percent mentioned "improving the quality of teaching." This too may be contributing to positive perceptions of local schools versus those across the nation, given that people tend to know and respect their local teachers. However, general confidence in the nation's teachers does not translate to high grades for the nation's schools.

Americans tend to grade the public schools in their community higher than the public schools in the nation as a whole. Why do you think that is? 2011 national results

Bottom Line

This year's PDK/Gallup Poll highlights the growing disparity between Americans' negative perceptions of the nation's schools as a whole (with only 1% giving an A grade) versus their positive perceptions of their local schools. Americans say knowledge of and pride in local schools contributes to the difference in perceptions.

Survey Methods

Results for this PDK/Gallup poll are based telephone interviews with 1,002 adults nationally, aged 18 and older randomly selected from the Gallup Panel, conducted June 4-13, 2011. 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. The sample is weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population and to represent the proper proportion of parents with children between ages 5 and 18.

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.

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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