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Americans Say U.S. Schools Should Teach "Soft" Skills

Americans Say U.S. Schools Should Teach "Soft" Skills

by Shane J. Lopez and Valerie J. Calderon

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most Americans believe that today's schools should teach "soft skills." More than three in four adults "strongly agree" that K-12 schools should teach critical thinking and communication to children. And 64% of respondents strongly agree that goal setting should be taught, while 61% strongly agree schools should know how to motivate students. A majority also strongly agree that things like creativity and collaboration are also meaningful teacher targets.

Expectations for Today's Schools Among the American Public

The results are based on the 2013 annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes toward public education.

Among the skills asked about in the poll, Americans were least likely to strongly agree that schools should build student character and promote student well-being, but a majority still did.

Parents Don't Overwhelmingly See Schools Improving Child's Well-Being

Parents do not see their child's school as making a major difference in promoting their child's well-being in any kind of overwhelming fashion. One-third of parents strongly agree that "My child has substantially higher well-being because of the school he or she attends," and another 31% "agree" with this statement.

A little over half agree or strongly agree that their child's school promotes building relationships with family and friends. A similar percentage also agree that their child's school does things to help their child be healthier and encourages them to be more involved in their community.

When it comes to financial well-being, fewer parents (15%) agree that their child's school is involved in teaching their child how to manage finances more effectively.

Goals for school achievements


Americans' views on what schools should be teaching parallel the opinions of employers, educators, and young people themselves, who are calling for students to be better equipped to analyze information, communicate effectively, and to collaborate with diverse people in a global work environment to solve complex problems.

While student success may depend on mastery of content in core subject areas such as math and reading, it also depends on more than knowledge of core content. Critical thinking, creativity, communication, and other soft skills, as well as student physical and social well-being, are also necessary for future success in higher education and in the workplace.

Read more about a related topic in The Gallup Blog.

Learn more about how Gallup Education can help your school district find more teachers like your very best and drive teacher engagement. Contact us at

Survey Methods

Results are based on findings from a quantitative survey that Gallup conducted on behalf of Phi Delta Kappa. Gallup conducted 1,001 interviews with members of the Gallup Panel who reside in telephone households. All interviews were conducted via outbound telephone interviewing, with a national sample of adults age 18 and older drawn from the Gallup Panel.

The Gallup Panel is a nationally representative research panel. All members of this proprietary in-house, probability-based, longitudinal panel of U.S. households have been recruited via dual frame landline and wireless telephone methodology or address-based sampling (ABS). Gallup sampled a national cross-section of households to yield a representative survey across all segments of the population in telephone-owning households. The obtained sample was statistically adjusted (weighted) to be representative of U.S. adults nationwide.

Gallup conducted surveys in English only from May 7-31, 2013. Up to five calls were made to each household to reach an eligible respondent. For results based on the total sample of 1,001 adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error attributable to sampling error is ±3.8%; in the case of subsamples, the margin of error would be greater. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. Reported frequencies may not add up to 100% due to rounding or the exclusion of "don't know" and refused results in some cases.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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